CHAMPAIGN, IL. (KMOV)- No. 20 Illinois wanted revenge against Minnesota after the Fighting Illini's humiliating loss to the Golden Gophers 59-36 on January 29 in Minneapolis, its worst defeat of the season.
But more importantly, Illinois wanted a Big Ten win to catch Purdue for the conference's second best record and distance itself from Minnesota.
The Fighting Illini (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten) did so with a 52-41 victory over Minnesota (20-8, 8-8) before 16,395 fans at the Assembly Hall Thursday. Now the Illini host Big Ten leading No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday, March 1.
"That was a real physical game, [Minnesota's] backs were against the wall," Illinois guard Chester Frazier said. "It was an ugly game, I don't think either team shot particularly well, but we took advantage when we needed and got defensive stops when we needed."< /p>
Leading 42-41, Illinois opened the game up with three-pointers by both Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham to go up 48-41 with three minutes remaining in the game. The onslaught continued and when it was all over, the Illini scored the game's final 10 points.
"Obviously this is a huge win for us. I don' think our players understand it, and I don't think the fans understand it. [We] came ready to play," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We [played Minnesota on the road] and they took us in the alley and beat us, they beat us bad.
"We didn't do a great job in the paint or rebounding but to win a game like this, I couldn't be happier. You wish it was prettier but you have to win games like this is a league like [the Big Ten].
In a game with five lead changes and five ties, Illinois got off to a slow start and fell behind 9-2 early in the game's first three minutes. Mike Tisdale hit a shot from inside and was fouled, and McCamey nailed a three-pointer which cut the score to 9-7.
Meacham gave the Illini its first lead with 7:58 left in the first half with a three-pointer making the score 19-17. After the Gophers tied the game at 21-all, Illinois finished the first half on a 7-2 run to go up 28-23 at the break.
"It was a battle from the beginning, Meacham said. "Our coaches said it was going to be a dogfight and it was."
The Gophers charged back after Illinois scored the first two points in the second half. Trailing 32-23, Minnesota outscored the Illini 9-2 to close the game to 34-32. However, the Gophers only led for 24 seconds in the second half, briefly holding a 40-39 advantage midway through the half.
"We just wanted to come out, we didn't want to get swept by any team," Frazier said, talking about the Illini's previous game at Minneso It was a difference in us, we played a lot harder, we fought from the beginning and played with a lot of life.
Mike Davis (14 points), Trent Meacham (13) and Demetri McCamey (10) each reached double figures for Illinois. Davis added 11 rebounds. For Minnesota Damian Johnson scored 18 but no other player recorded over eight points.
"Both teams were battling, didn't particular shoot the ball well. We shot the ball poorly because of their defense and were giving their guys open shots," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. " We had a good game plan coming in, but didn't execute. We haven't been able to get any type of continuity or consistency from our back court in late game situations.
"You have to be willing to play the right way. Basketball is basketball. It's a contact sport."
After playing the Spartans, Illinois wraps up its regular season on the road at Penn State on March 5.
Notes: Prior to the game, the University of Illinois honored Bruce Weber with a game ball from Illinois' 70-68 victory over Ohio State on February 22. At Ohio State, Weber recorded his 150th career victoryIllinois legend Ken Norman was also honored and his banner was raised in the rafters. Norman played from 1985-87 and in his senior season averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.