College men's basketball: Gophers snap 6-game skid
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- In a battle of Big Ten teams desperate for a victory, Minnesota's early second-half burst set the stage for a 68-59 victory over Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In a battle of Big Ten teams desperate for a victory, Minnesota's early second-half burst set the stage for a 68-59 victory over Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
Junior center Reggie Lynch paced a balanced attack with 15 points and six rebounds for the Gophers (16-7 overall, 4-6 Big Ten), who snapped a five-game losing streak. Senior guard Akeem Springs contributed 14 points while junior point guard Nate Mason and freshman guard Amir Coffey added 13 apiece.
Freshman forward Kipper Nichols came off the bench to deliver a career-high 16 points for Illinois (13-11, 3-8), which has dropped six of its last seven. Senior swingman Malcolm Hill hit just 5 of 18 shots and finished with 13 points, while senior center Maverick Morgan contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Illinois thrived early despite Hill picking up two fouls in the opening 3:17. Nichols took his spot and proceeded to pour in 13 first-half points - tying his career-best for a game - to steer Illinois into a 35-35 halftime tie. Nichols canned all five of his shots from the floor, including the fourth and fifth 3-pointers of his career, before the break.
Springs, an Illinois native, delivered 11 first-half points to pace the Gophers. Minnesota took its biggest first-half lead, 35-30, on sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer's jumper with 1:12 to play. Nichols answered by converting a 3-point play and a jumper in the final minute of the half.
Instead of Illinois capitalizing on that momentum in the second half, Minnesota scored the first seven points after the break and Illinois missed its first six shots.
When Mason canned three consecutive shots midway through the half, Minnesota owned a 54-44 lead with 12:29 to play. Illinois mounted only one serious challenge from there.
Morgan's dunk pulled the Illini within 62-56 with 3:41 to go and the hosts had three more possessions to climb closer, but Hill missed a 3-pointer, freshman guard Te'Jon Lucas missed a jumper and Nichols missed a jumper.
Both teams shot 38 percent from the floor, but Illinois committed 10 turnovers while forcing just five.