Illinois has been short-handed all season with a host of injuries. But Minnesota took short-handed to a whole new level Sunday night, playing with just eight players and just six scholarship athletes after suspending three players right before the game.
And that's why it was so shocking when the Illini fell behind 11-0 right off the bat in Champaign and trailed by eight at halftime.
But the orange and blue righted the ship after halftime, shooting a terrific 73.9 percent and outscoring the visitors, 52-31, over the game's final 20 minutes to cruise to a 84-71 win at the State Farm Center.
The first half was not a good one for the Illini, who shot just 42.3 percent from the field over the opening 20 minutes. The 11-0 run to open the game by the Gophers was stunning enough, but Minnesota continued to excel and by half's end had a 20-11 rebounding advantage and a 22-8 edge in points in the paint. Jordan Murphy, Joey King and Stephon Sharp combined for 37 of the Gophers' 40 first-half points.
But the script was completely flipped after halftime. Illinois scored 13 of the half's first 16 points to completely erase the halftime gap and turn it into a two-point lead not four minutes into the period. Minnesota scored just eight points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, while Illinois had 29 at that point. The Illini led by as many as 18 in the second half and went 17-for-23 from the field and 14-for-15 from the free-throw line over the final 20 minutes.
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Illinois still finished way behind in the rebounding battle, 32-21, and was outscored in the paint, 34-28. Minnesota turned 12 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points, while Illinois had none. The Illini, though, did score 20 points off 17 Gopher turnovers.
Kendrick Nunn led the Illini with 25 points, going 9-for-16 from the field and hitting a trio of 3-pointers. Malcolm Hill scored 22 points, going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Jalen Coleman-Lands kept Illinois afloat early with four first-half 3-pointers. He finished with 18 points, going 5-for-6 from deep.
Murphy finished as the high man for the Gophers with 22 points, recording a double-double with 10 rebounds. Sharp ended with 19 and King with 17, the rest of the team contributing just 13 points.
The win sent the Illini to 13-16 overall and 5-11 in the Big Ten. They have two regular-season games remaining: Thursday against Maryland and next weekend against Penn State.
The loss snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the Gophers, who won back-to-back games after starting Big Ten play 0-13. Sunday's loss sent them to 8-20 overall and 2-14 in conference play. Minnesota finishes its regular season with a Wednesday game against Wisconsin and a game against Rutgers next weekend.