Second-half Illini run sinks Gophers at Williams Arena

Illinois used a 10-0 second-half run to defeat Minnesota 71-65 on Tuesday night.

C.J. Spang

For the five seniors on Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, Tuesday’s game against 10th-ranked Illinois was not what they had hoped for.

Needing a win to keep their NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopes alive, the Gophers fell to the Illini 71-65, ending their four-game home winning streak.

Illinois (24-5, 10-5 Big Ten) had no answer for senior guard Vincent Grier in the first half and found itself trying to keep up with the Gophers for much of the first frame.

Grier scored 12 points in the first half, six of them from the free-throw line.

But while Grier was having his way with the Illini defense, senior guard Dee Brown was having his way with Minnesota’s.

The senior guard also notched 12 points, scoring half of them from beyond the arc.

After senior guard Maurice Hargrow turned the ball over as the first half was winding down, Illinois was able to push the ball ahead to a wide-open James Augustine, who threw down the two-handed dunk to give the Illini a 37-34 halftime lead.

Hargrow opened the second half with a three-pointer on his way to seven of Minnesota’s first 11 second-half points to help give the Gophers a 45-43 lead.

But Illinois quickly countered with a crippling 10-0 run as Minnesota (14-12, 5-10 Big Ten) didn’t make a shot for five minutes.

From that point on, it seemed like every time the Gophers mustered a score, the Illini came right back with an easy bucket on the other end.

But then, as things looked to be spiraling out of control, the life was shot back into Williams Arena.

With the 35-second clock winding down, Augustine found a wide-open Shaun Pruitt under the basket.

As Pruitt went to lay it in, senior forward Zach Puchtel ‘ who had been rendered virtually ineffective after picking up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half ‘ came from behind to block Pruitt.

The Gophers pushed the ball up the court where senior forward J’son Stamper drilled a deep jumper to pull Minnesota within seven.

After an Augustine travel, the Gophers came right back down the court and senior guard Adam Boone nailed a three that brought Minnesota within four points, 60-56, with 4:26 left in the game.

But freshman guard Jamar Smith, who scored 15 points on five three-pointers against Minnesota earlier in the year, knocked down a wide-open three that proved to the dagger.

Not only did the three ruin senior night, but also it all but ruined the Gophers’ chances at a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.