Nunn Scores 25, Illinois Beats Minnesota 84-71
The Minnesota Golden Gophers ran out of gas in the second half of Sunday night's men's basketball game at the State Farm Center, which Illinois won 84-71.
Fueled by Jordan Murphy's 17 first-half points, the Gophers exploded out of the gate, running up a 40-32 halftime lead.
But the Gophers were seriously undermanned. Coach Richard Pitino suspended leading scorer Nate Mason, starting guard Dupree McBrayer and key reserve Kevin Dorsey from the game for violating team rules.
Forced to play a six man rotation, the Gophers wore out in the face of Illinois's transition offense, which managed a 74 percent field-goal rate in the second half. Kendrick Nunn led the charge with a game-high 25 points.
“We spoke as a team in the locker room,” said Nunn, following the win in the Illini’s last home game of the season. “We agreed on some things that we were doing wrong, we tried to clean up. We were saying that we wanted to go out with a bank in our last game at (the State Farm Center), we wanted to make it an Inspiring effort.
Coach John Groce agreed the turnaround was player-driven rather than due to coaching.
“I really didn’t have a fancy half-time speech,” said Groce. “These guys took care of it. They made sure we were ready to play in the second half. I loved the response that I saw. I actually learned a lot today about these guys that are sitting up here, as well as about some other guys in the locker-room.”
With all their guards suspended, Minnesota relied on walk-on small forward Stephon Sharp to run the point. Forward Charles Buggs played the shooting guard position.
Murphy finished with 22 points for Minnesota, Sharp contributed 19 and Joey King 17 before fouling out.
Malcolm Hill finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and a block for Illinois. He shot 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Jalen Coleman-Lands connected on 5-of-6 three-pointers, scoring 18.
Illinois honored three seniors prior to the game including Khalid Lewis, Mike Thorne Jr. and Mike LaTulip.
Lewis finished the game with seven points, four assists, two steals and a block. He said Illinois' 18 assists were the product of defensive intensity.
“I feel like a lot of assists came from our defense, when we picked up the defense, we got a lot in transition,” said Lewis. “So a lot of our defense jump-started our offense.”
Mike LaTulip is sitting out this year with a plan to play a graduate transfer year elsewhere. Thorne missed most of the season due to injury. But despite participating in Senior Night ceremonies, he may suit up for Illinois next year.
During a teleconference on Saturday, Groce said U of I's Director of Compliance Ryan Squire would file a petition with the NCAA seeking a sixth year of eligibility for Mike Thorne Jr., who injured his meniscus in November.
Also on Sunday, Peoria Manual point guard Da'Monte Williams announced via Twitter that he had verbally committed to play for Illinois. Considered a top-50 recruit in the Class of 2017, Williams is the son of former Illini and NBA star Frank Williams, the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001.
With last night’s win, Illinois now has 13 wins and 16 losses for the season, and a 5-11 record in the Big Ten Conference. Minnesota drops to 2-14 in the Big Ten, and 8-20 overall.
The Illini will finish the regular season with a five day road trip later this week, playing at Maryland on Thursday night and at Penn State Sunday at 11 AM.