The Fighting Illini utilized its biggest strength in order to claim victory on the road at Williams Arena: three-point shooting.
Illinois (17-8, 4-7) made 11 three-pointers against Minnesota including a game-clinching three from Tracy Abrams with 15 second left as the Fighting Illini upended its second-straight ranked opponent, 57-53.
Entering Sunday’s contest, Illinois attempted 579 from long distance. In contrast, the Gophers attempted only 359 three-pointers this season.
After hitting the game-winning layup during the week at home against Indiana, Tyler Griffey had the shooting confidence on Sunday. Griffey came off the bench and jumpstarted the trend from beyond the arc. The forward finished with a team-high 16 points.
Head coach John Groce and his team needed a jumpstart after a frigid start to his Fighting Illini offense. Minnesota did not allow a field goal on defense for the first 9:30 of play on Sunday, but the Gophers could only muscle a 12-point lead.
The lead was quickly erased by the three-point shooting of Illinois. Senior DJ Richardson hit three three-pointers in the final four minutes of the opening half to take the team’s first lead in the game.
Richardson finished with 13 points.
Minnesota (17-7, 5-6) struggled offensive as well by shooting only 38 percent from the field . The team connected on just five three-point attempts as the team fell below .500 in the Big Ten conference.
The lone gleaming light offensively for the Gophers was Austin Hollins. After struggling at Michigan State during the week with a migraine, Hollins finished with a team-high 16 points and was active on both ends of the court.
Hollins guarded Brandon Paul, the leading scorer for the Fighting Illini, and only allowed 10 points. He also snatched four steals on defensive, providing a spark in transition for Tubby Smith.
Minnesota was without senior Rodney Williams on Sunday. Williams was questionable to play with a shoulder injury during Friday’s practice. The 6-foot-7 Williams is the Gophers second-leading scorer, averaging 11.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game this season.
Williams started 61 straight games before Sunday and was his first game missed since his freshman year.
In his absence, Elliott Elason was inserted in the starting lineup. The center had a strong game in his place alongside Trevor Mbakwe. Eliason started the first 12 games of the season. The sophomore had 10 rebounds in 28 minutes and added four points.
Even with an injured right wrist, Mbakwe finished with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) by moving to power forward.
As a team, Minnesota outrebounded Illinois by a dozen.
The Gophers will spend Valentine’s Day at Williams Arena with its rival, the Wisconsin Badgers.