Illinois torches Purdue to win third straight

Illinois torches Purdue to win third straight
February 13, 2013, 11:45 pm
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Chris Davies

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois turned in its most dominating Big Ten win of the season on Wednesday night, routing Purdue 79-59.

The win was a reversal of the Illini’s 68-61 conference-opening loss at Purdue on Jan. 2. That loss marked the beginning of a 3-7 stretch for Illinois. Wednesday’s win, however, was Illinois’ (18-8, 5-7) third straight, inching the team closer to .500 in conference play.

“Our effort on the defensive end for 40 minutes was really, really good. We were really together on both ends,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “At this time of year you want to be that team that keeps getting better throughout the month of February.”

It was a true team effort for Illinois as they picked up their first win in eight tries against the Boilermakers (12-13, 5-7). The team had a 14 assists and eight different players scored, making up for a quiet night for senior Brandon Paul, who fouled out with just three points.

“I was thrilled with our unselfishness,” Groce added.

D.J. Richardson tied for the game high with 18 points and fellow guard Tracy Abrams had 13 with five rebounds and seven assists. From the bench, Tyler Griffey added 12 points and six rebounds and Joseph Bertrand scored nine and pulled in 12 rebounds.

Illinois played dangerously in the opening minutes, allowing A.J. Hammons, one of the nation’s top freshmen, to score a quick four points for Purdue. Unlike their last couple games, however, the Illini did not fall into a deep hole early. The hosts converted on two straight turnovers and went on an 8-0 run to claim an early 8-4 lead.

The early going in Champaign had Abrams' stamp all over it. In the first seven minutes the sophomore dished out three assists, grabbed three boards, swiped a pair of steals and scored five; his three with 13 minutes to play in the first half put Illinois ahead 15-11.

“Abrams is really looking for guys, setting them up and playing at a good pace. That’s allowed our offense to make plays,” Groce said.

The two-possession advantage held up for the Illini, but despite six Purdue turnovers in the first 12 minutes their lead did not increase. It wasn’t until Richardson’s three with eight minutes to play that Illinois started to gain a more comfortable lead.

Over the next minute-and-a-half Illinois kept up the pressure, picking up a pair of offensive rebounds and turning them into putbacks, all while putting a stop to Purdue’s offense. The Boilermakers were held scoreless for 4:48, allowing Illinois to take a 31-18 lead in the process.

With Nnanna Egwu on the bench with two fouls, Myke Henry got a good chunk of time, whch he made the most of. In the final four minutes of the first half, the forward split the defense with a dribble-drive and knocked down a pair of threes, tying Sam McLaurin for the scoring lead at halftime with eight.

At halftime the Illini held a 43-29 lead, shooting 47 percent (17/36) and scoring 13 points on 10 Purdue turnovers. Everyone who entered the game for Illinois in the first half got on the scoresheet.

Illinois maintained its aggressive play after the break, increasing the lead to a nearly untouchable level shortly into the period. With the heavy lifting out of the way, the hosts just needed to maintain their hold on the game, which proved to be a relatively easy task.

The Illini didn’t do it without style, however. The home fans were delighted by a Griffey offensive rebound and putback slam and a tricky and-one runner by Bertrand as their team cruised to victory. Of course, the home fans were also delighted to see Purdue coach Matt Painter get ejected after consecutive technical fouls.

The attitudes of the players and coaches on the Illinois bench were obviously improved from 10 days ago, when the team lost to Wisconsin. Richardson said the biggest difference between then and now is the amount of fun the players are having.

“We’re out there playing basketball and having fun,” he said. “Coach told us there will be a time this season things will go wrong. We did a good job bouncing back and fighting. We’re back to playing Illinois basketball and we’ve got a lot more to play.”

Illinois led in almost every category on Wednesday. They shot better than Purdue (42 to 38 percent), rebounded better (44 to 34) and limited turnovers (11 to 17). On offensive rebounds the Illini set a new season-high, grabbing 20, edging out Purdue by six.

“Illinois was really good, they were quicker to the basketball,” Painter said. “They’re playing good basketball right now…if they rebound like that every night they’re going to be OK.”

After winning their third game in seven days, the Illini will get a much needed day of rest on Thursday. Groce joked after the game that he doesn’t want to take time off from the team.

“We’ve had a heck of a stretch and we’re in a rhythm right now,” he said. “Our guys understand that it’s about team defense and team offense. They’ve really bought into that the last seven to 10 days.”

After their day off, the Illini will return to practice to get ready for their trip to Evanston to play Northwestern on Sunday. Tip-off for that game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.