After winning its last two games by a combined five points, Illinois didn’t need any clutch shots down the stretch to end an eight-game losing skid against Purdue.
Illinois (18-8, 5-7 Big Ten) cruised past Purdue (12-13, 5-7) in a 79-59 victory on Wednesday to extend its win streak to three games. Illinois was led by 18 points from senior guard D.J. Richardson. Sophomore guard Tracy Abrams contributed 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds, helping Illinois win three consecutive games for the first time since the team’s 12-0 start to the season. With the win, the Illini have more wins than all of last season.
“I think we’re getting better, we’re improving,” Illinois head coach John Groce said. “I was thrilled with our unselfishness. I’m happy our guys get to experience the fruit of their labor.”
Illinois outrebounded Purdue 44-34 and forced 17 Boilermaker turnovers. In Illinois’ 68-61 defeat against Purdue on Jan. 2 the Boilermakers outrebounded the Illini 38-31 and turned the ball over only 10 times.
“We’re just taking it one (game) at a time,” senior forward Tyler Griffey said. “We’ve been really focused throughout this stretch.”
“We just out there playing basketball and having fun,” Richardson said. “We did a good job of bouncing back and fighting.”
After beginning the game down 4-0, Illinois responded with a 8-0 run after a jumper from sophomore center Nnanna Egwu at the 16:27 mark.
Purdue turned the ball over at a high rate in the early going, already having five turnovers at the 10:39 mark. The Boilermakers had 10 turnovers in the first half.
A 3-pointer by Richardson at the 8:24 mark gave Illinois its biggest lead of the half to that point at 27-18.
Consecutive baskets inside the paint by senior forward Sam McLaurin put Illinois up 31-18 with 6:37 left in the half.
A layup by freshman guard Rapheal Davis of Purdue with 5:27 left ended a 9-0 run by the Illini.
Illinois led 43-29 at halftime behind strong rebounding. Despite Purdue entering Wednesday’s game ranking 15th in the nation in rebounding, Illinois outrebounded the Boilermakers 21-13 in the first half. Sophomore guard Joseph Bertrand led Illinois’ rebounding effort with six first half rebounds, three of them on the offensive end.
The scoring in the first half came from an unlikely source in McLaurin and sophomore forward Myke Henry who led Illinois in scoring with eight points. Henry scored his eight points in only eight first half minutes.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter’s ejection at the 8:08 mark in the second half told the story of the game for the Boilermakers.
Illinois will head to Evanston to face Northwestern on Sunday, another team the Illini lost to earlier in the season.
With how well his team is playing right now, Groce doesn’t want his team to have a break.
“I’m disappointed we have to take a day off tomorrow,” Groce said.