Illini Outlasts Yale, 69-65

 
Illini men's basketball player Kendrick Nunn shooting for a basket.

Kendrick Nunn (25) fires a shot from the short corner, in Illinois' game against Yale, Wednesday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

Another game came down to the wire for the Illini men on Wednesday, but this time they prevailed over a Yale team that's expected to compete for an Ivy League championship. The final score was 69-65.

Illinois took a 33-25 lead into halftime, but the Bulldogs stormed back behind a 12-0 run early in the second half to take a 37-35 lead.

Makai Mason hit a jumper and made a layup to pull Yale within three with two minutes left. But the Bulldogs committed four turnovers and made just 1 of 4 field goals from there.

Kendrick Nunn hit a 3 to make it 66-60 with 1:25 remaining, and his two free throws with two seconds to plays sealed the victory for the Illini.

Nunn set a career-high for the second straight game, tallying 28 points on 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range. Nunn was 9-of-16 overall from the floor and 4-of-4 on free throws, including a pair with two seconds remaining, to seal the game.

Nunn said his balanced attack was determined by whatever opportunities Yale's defense presented him.

"Just reading the defense, see what they give me," said Nunn. "You know, I play aggressive, I’m an all-around player. So I just read the defense.”

And Nunn said he was motivated by his teammates’ faith in him.

“I’ve been playing well of late,” said Nunn. “Guys have a lot of confidence in me. For instance, Malcolm (Hill), he’ll pass the ball to me, and before it even touch my hand, he’ll yell at me to shoot it. So that gives me confidence.”

Malcolm Hill said he feels the team is making progress after a shaky start.

“I just have confidence in everybody that gets on the floor,” said Hill. “I mean, you saw today, look at everybody that touched the court, had a big impact on the game. Tonight’s a step in the right direction. We did stop off the second half too great. But the same thing actually happened (when) we played Notre Dame. You know, they slapped us in the mouth in the second half. But in this game, we responded. I’d say that’s improvement from all of us.”

Hill scored 20 points for Illinois, but connected on only 1-of-7 attempts from the arc. Apart from Nunn, the Illini shot 2-of-18 from deep.

The Yale Bulldogs out-rebounded the Illini by a whopping 48-to-25 margin. But that advantage was offset by Yale's 23 turnovers, the decisive statistic of the game. Yale committed 15 of those turns in the first half, and on 3 of their final 4 possessions. Overall, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on 32% of their possessions.

Justin Sears led Yale with 21 points. Makai Mason added 15. Brandon Sherrod grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

Yale drops to 5-and-4 on the year. The Illini are 5-and-5.

Illinois returns to action against the University of Illinois–Chicago on Saturday in Chicago. It's the Illini's annual United Center game, and the final match-up of a long-standing contract demanded by the university administration, requiring the two campuses to compete in basketball at least once every three years.

Story source: WILL