There are certain times during a college basketball season when a game goes beyond the realm of bad play and sinks into the depths of ugliness. The Gophers’ 75-63 dismantling of Illinois was simply ugly.
It was ugly not only in the way the Gophers won, but also in how the Illini lost — a combination of miscues, horrendous fouls and pathetic shooting. But as they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
“It was poetry in motion,” Gophers forward Quincy Lewis said of the scoring balance that Minnesota exhibited. “Mitch (Ohnstad) scored, Kevin (Clark) scored. It’s not just a one-man show.”
While Lewis — who finished with a game-high 28 points — displayed his uncanny offensive talents against a less-than-formidable Illini squad, it was his team’s defense that ultimately squeezed the life of out of an overmatched opponent.
“The key was defensive pressure,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “I thought we played great team defense tonight.”
Great team defense and the inability of the Illini to put the ball in the basket. Illinois shot a paltry 43 percent from the floor, including 12-of-28 in the second half.
Illinois actually made a game of it early, thanks to redshirt freshman guard Cory Bradford. In the early part of the first half, the 6-foot-2 Bradford did an effective job of undressing anyone who dared to guard him en route to a quick 12 points.
But Haskins quickly deployed his defenders to keep Bradford in check while his frontcourt players, forward Miles Tarver and center Joel Przybilla, shut down the Illini post game.
“Minnesota did a nice job after (Bradford) had a comfortable start,” Illinois coach Lon Kruger said. “They would pick him and would put a big guy on him when he’d get past his man. Cory is a type of player who commands that kind of attention now.”
Bradford may have felt compelled to carry the team early, considering he received little help from his teammates. Center Victor Chukwudebe was suffocated by Tarver and Przybilla all game and limited to just five points and two rebounds.
After being tied at 27, the Gophers simply blew past the Illini, going on a 14-2 run to finish the first half. The catalyst of the run was Lewis, who set up the Minnesota fast-break with three steals.
“Our guys battled for a bit, but (Minnesota’s) run at the end of the first half showed the difference between our teams,” Kruger said.
The second half was a lot more revealing of the disparity between the teams.
Coming off intermission, the Gophers picked up where they left off, shredding the Illini with Lewis’ outside jumpers and Clark orchestrating numerous transition opportunities. Within minutes, the Gophers led 54-32 and were in no position to look back.
“We just came and pressured them all game,” Lewis said. “We just wore them down tonight.”
In fact, the Gophers kept pressuring Illinois until they amassed a 74-49 lead with five minutes remaining. When Minnesota’s reserves entered the ballgame, Illinois took the opportunity to soften the blow of the rout.
But the Illini 14-1 run to end the game didn’t escape Haskins afterwards.
“We played a great 35 minutes of basketball,” he said. “The bench didn’t execute as well as we would’ve liked in the last five minutes.”
Haskins couldn’t complain too much, however, as his team improved to 14-5 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Kruger was left trying to dissect a grotesque performance from his team.
“Tonight we needed to play our best game to stay with at top-20 team,” Krueger said. “We didn’t do the things we had to do.”
Lucas Johnson 0-3 0-3 0, Sergio McClain 5-8 3-4 13, Victor Chukwudebe 2-6 1-1 5, Cory Bradford 5-15 3-3 14, Cleotis Brown 5-10 2-3 12, Arias Davis 1-2 0-0 3, Fess Hawkins 0-1 0-0 0, Nate Mast 1-1 0-1 3, Robert Archibald 0-2 3-4 3, Damir Krupalija 4-5 1-2 10, Bryan Campbell 0-0 0-0 0
TOTALS: 23-53 (.434) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 13-21 (.619) THREE-POINT SHOOTING: 4-10 (.400) REBOUNDS: 25 (Krupalija 6) ASSISTS: 10 (Brown 3) STEALS: 12 (Brown 4) BLOCKS: 1 (Brown)
Quincy Lewis 10-16 4-4 28, Miles Tarver 3-6 2-2 8, Joel Przybilla 1-2 0-0 2, Kevin Clark 4-6 6-7 16, Kevin Nathaniel 2-4 0-0 4, Nick Sinville 1-2 1-5 3, Mitch Ohnstad 4-7 0-0 9, Terrance Simmons 2-2 0-0 4, Antoine Broxsie 0-1 1-2 1, Dusty Rychart 0-1 0-0 0, Kyle Sanden 0-0 0-0 0
TOTALS: 27-47 (.574) FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE: 14-20 (.700) THREE-POINT SHOOTING: 7-11 (.636) REBOUNDS: 30 (Clark 8) ASSISTS: 19 (Clark 5) STEALS: 11 (Lewis 5) BLOCKS: 5 (Broxsie 2)