Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Illinois 71; Minnesota 65

The Illini celebrated senior day over the weekend with a win over Iowa and set themselves on the task of ruining senior day for the Gophers and Spartans. One down, one to go.

Vincent Grier got off to a good first half, although he scored half of his points from the foul line. But the Illini came on strong late in the half, got a dunk from James Augustine as the clock wore down, and went into the break with a 3 point lead. The teams came out and exchanged scores, and the lead, for a while, until the Illini went on a 10-0 run beginning at around the 15 minute mark, and they never gave up the lead again. The run consisted of four free throws, and just two points from a guard. Although the backcourt combined for 36 points, it really seemed like the front court that came through when it mattered most for the first 35 minutes. Sean Pruitt dropped in nine points on 4-5 shooting, Marcus Arnold added six, and Augie was terrific with 16 points, 10 boards, and 7 assists.

What seemed to do the Gophers in were two posessions late in the second half where the Illini ran the clock down about as far as they could before making three pointers, one by McBride and one by Jamar Smith. It's kind of like killing a penalty in hockey and giving up a goal with one second left. When you play great defense, force the opponent to throw one up as the buzzer sounds, and watch it go in, that's demoralizing. And that's not even taking into account the fact that the Illini were able to kill 1:10 of game time while still getting six points out of it.

At the under-four timeout, the Gophers were within four points. Dan Monson put the seniors back out on the floor, hoping they could dig something up and finish the game out on a winning note. But seconds later, Jason Stampier was whistled for an offensive foul off the ball, and that was the break the Illini needed to put the game away, as Jamar Smith hit his three pointer on the very next posession.

Now it's on the East Lansing to finish the regular season, maybe move closer to a 2-seed. Meanwhile, everyone in Orange will be pulling hard for Northwestern to upset OSU.

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