This is what it’s like to rebound: both winning the battle on the glass and coming back from a loss. In their last three games (Mizzou, Auburn and Purdue) the Illini got owned on the backboards and went 1-2. In their Big Ten opener Illinois got upset by a .500 Purdue team. The loss was shocking, but the #11 Illini recovered nicely, CRUSHING the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes 74-55 in their conference home opener. They won the battle of the boards 40-30.
It was their second win over a top ten team this season, and their most lopsided defeat of a top ten ranked Big Ten team since 1954. Although it appears both teams in this one are over-ranked and overrated. Or it’s just that no one will be able to win on the road in the Big Ten this year. Either way, it was Illinois’ best defensive effort of the year by far, and a career game for center Nnanna Egwu.
Nnanna finished 7-10 from the floor with 16 points and 8 rebounds. He owned his match-up with McDonald’s All-American Amir Williams.
“Egwu does some things on the defensive end people don’t notice. Works his tail off, cares about Illinois and winning,” he said.
What was most encouraging about this game is the fact that Illinois won by nearly 20 points despite shooting just 29.6% from three. They attacked the rim, and got to the basket more. They didn’t live and die by the three. The Illini got majorly out-hustled by Purdue, that’s why they lost. Groce re-focused the team in practice during the week and today they hustled. And they played great defense on Ohio State. They made the Buckeyes look like DeShaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and just a bunch of guys. Maybe that’s what Ohio State truly is? Maybe Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross are all way overrated? Thomas still had 24 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there. Illinois defended him well, and they exposed OSU as a team that only has one consistent scorer; as did Kansas and Duke.
The one dark spot for Illinois was the continued shooting woes of D.J. Richardson. Three point shooting is the main part of his game and he’s been off now for quite awhile. The Illini need him to go far in March.
“I’m tired of people making a big deal of DJ Richardson’s struggles,” Groce said after the game.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Chicago Tribune.com, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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