INDIANAPOLIS — Illinois' season has hardly gone the way anyone in orange and blue has wanted it to. But imagine the possibilities if the Illini had been allowed to face Minnesota every night.
For the third time this season, the Illini scored a win over the Gophers, the latest coming in an absolute blowout of Day 1 of the Big Ten Tournament, an 85-52 thrashing that advanced Illinois to a Day 2 game against Iowa.
The Illini were cooking from 3-point range, going 14-for-26 from deep as a team and seeing three different players hit at least three 3s. That included Michael Finke, who knocked down five triples after going 0-for-10 from 3-point distance in his last four games.
Finke finished with 17 to lead Illinois, joined in double figured by Kendrick Nunn (15), Malcolm Hill (14) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (13).
Illinois started terrifically on the offensive end, and that success continued throughout the first half. Ahead, 12-8, five minutes into the game, the Illini burst out on a 10-2 run, capped by back-to-back buckets by Coleman-Lands — playing in his hometown — to give Illinois a double-digit lead at 22-10, and that advantage didn't drop below 10 for the remainder of the half. The Illini even weathered a five-minute stretch where they scored just two points, but the Gophers' offensive ineptitude meant Minnesota couldn't take advantage of Illinois cold stretch. The Illini finished the first half with a 51.7-percent shooting mark and a big 16-point lead after Jaylon Tate hit just his second 3-pointer of the season right before the buzzer.
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The Illini went 7-for-13 from 3 over the first 20 minutes, while the Gophers were 0-for-5 from deep. Illinois scored 14 points off eight first-half turnovers by Minnesota.
Despite a sloppy start to the second half, the Illini continued to build on their lead, which grew to 19 when Nunn and Finke hit back-to-back 3-pointers just five minutes out of the break. The Gophers fought back a little with a 7-0 stretch, cutting the gap to 12, but the Illini responded with points on seven straight trips, halting any growing Minnesota momentum. A 12-0 run skyrocketed the Illinois lead up to 27 with eight minutes to play, and around the five-minute mark, Finke's fifth made 3-pointer gave Illinois a 32-point lead. That lead hit 37 on an Aaron Jordan triple not long after and finally wrapped up at 33.
Illinois shot 55.2 percent on the game, including that sensational 53.8-percent shooting mark from 3-point range. The Illini capitalized on 15 Gopher turnovers, turning them into 19 points. Illinois smashed Minnesota in bench points, 30-6, and had a 35-26 rebounding advantage.
Finke's 17 points were the most he's had in a single game since a 24-point performance in a Dec. 5 win over Western Carolina. Finke hit five 3s in one game after hitting five in his last nine combined.
Charles Buggs led Minnesota with 12 points, and Ahmad Gilbert scored 11 points.
The Illini improved to 14-18 overall and 6-13 against Big Ten competition and extended their season one more day. They'll face the No. 5-seed Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday.
The Gophers dropped to 8-23 overall and 2-17 against Big Ten opponents. Their season is likely over.