I was beginning to worry that we’d never win another basketball game all season. There have been some tough efforts (vs. Iowa at NU), but an actual win has eluded the team since beating Penn State at home on January 4th. Until last night that is, when Illinois nabbed a 60-55 win in State College, Pa.
Now, I know that all we did is beat the worst team in the conference, but what that means is that the worst team in the conference isn’t US! The Illini were hovering at the bottom of the list for a while now, but a sweep of Penn State means that they can’t possibly be better than us so we’re not the worst. I’m grasping for happy straws here people.
John Groce decided a major change was in order, and for the first time all season he switched up the starting line-up. Froshies Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill got their first career starts joining regular starters Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice. Meanwhile, Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand came off the bench.
Earning a start seemed to fit Nunn well, as he had a career-high 19 points and 4 rebounds last night, including a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to go that sealed the game. Hill also had a career-high with 11 points, which meant he and Nunn were the only guys in double figures. Ekey responded OK to being on the bench, as he had 9 points, including 2-3 from behind the arc. Bertrand, on the other hand, had 0 points, an assist and 1 turnover.
Scoring seemed to be an issue, as both Egwu and Abrams had just 2 points each and Abrams only scored from the free throw line. Rice had just 9 points, but at least he had 7 rebounds. Luckily Penn State couldn’t make any buckets, because we couldn’t either, with both teams shooting about 38%.
So you can see on the whole the team could’ve done a lot better, especially because in the last 4:20 Rice and Abrams both missed two free throws. Close games on the road means that free throws are CRUCIAL. Especially considering the Abrams missed 2 in a row with 2:28 left when the team was only up 2 points, and he had 0 points at the time. Just saying.
It’d be great if yesterdays win would turn the corner for the Illini, but I don’t think that will be the case. They’re going to feel a lot better about themselves, but there are still a lot of tough games ahead. On Wednesday, they will head to the Pinnacle Bank Arena to face Nebraska for the first time this year. Nebraska isn’t really tops in the Big Ten, but this is a road game, and actually Nebraska has some wins at home against Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State. About two months ago I would’ve predicted a win, but now I honestly have no clue.
The game will be on Wednesday at 8PM.