Minnesota defeated Illinois 86-75 in front of shockingly high 9,565 people at Williams Arena. With the win, Minnesota is 6-4 in Big Ten play and 16-4 overall. Amir Coffey led all Minnesota scorers with 18 points.
You would have been forgiven as a Minnesota partisan for being a bit worried after the first half. The Gophers were able to score against Illinois, but gave the ball away several times and had no answer for Trent Frazier.
It was even a close game at the under 16 of the second, with Illinois holding a 5 point lead. At that point, the same offensive firepower Minnesota displayed against Iowa returned with a vengeance. The Gophers went on a 27-6 run over the next eight minutes of game action to put away the game. A key catalyst for the entire second half was Isaiah Washington, who had his best game as a Gopher. Washington had 12 points on 5-11 shooting along with 4 assists and was a +16 for the game. That’s a phenomenal performance from a point guard, and one that served as a catalyst for the rest of the team. It also allowed what I at the beginning of the year referred to hopefully as the death lineup of Washington, Kalscheur, Coffey, Murphy, Curry to impose their will on Illinois.
In the second half, in part because of Washington at the point and partly because of Illinois’s defense, Pitino ran almost exclusively 5 out motion offense. The Gophers were quite successful in this set for two reasons. First, they started making three pointers. More specifically, Gabe Kalscheur started making threes. As a result, Illinois stopped being able to pack the paint, which opened up driving lanes and space on the block. Second, the Gophers kept moving on offense. At their worst, Minnesota stands around on offense and allows one player to play isolation basketball. Shockingly, this strategy is not efficient. The 5 out motion offense kept Minnesota, and by extension Illinois, moving.
The magic number is now 4 wins for the rest of the season.
For the second straight game, Minnesota put up more than 1.2 points per possession. That number is an elite offensive performance. Five players scored in double figures. Jordan Murphy had another double double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Amir Coffey led the team with 18 points and had six assists. Kalscheur had 14 points. Washington had 12, and Daniel Oturu had 11.
The Gophers were 20-26 from the free throw line. Daniel Oturu alone was 7-10.
Over 9000 fans attended the game because the game was indoors and Minnesotans are better fans than all other fans.