By Andy Ybarra
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Freshman guard Kendrick Nunn hit five 3-pointers and led Illinois with 19 points as the last-place Illini beat Minnesota 62-49 on Wednesday night, putting a damper on the Gophers’ hopes for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
The Illini won for only the second time in their last 12 games thanks to some uncharacteristically good 3-point shooting and solid defense that helped them overcome a poor start. Nunn went 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and the Illini hit eight shots from behind the arc — their most so far in conference play.
Nnanna Egwu had 14 points and Tracy Abrams added 13 for Illinois (14-12, 3-10 Big Ten), which entered the game ranking next-to-last in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (.308).
Andre Hollins led Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) with 15 points, and Austin Hollins and Mo Walker each added 10. The Gophers have lost six of their last nine games.
Fresh off a road win at Northwestern over the weekend, the Gophers were in prime position to give their NCAA Tournament odds a boost facing the Big Ten’s last-place team in front of their rowdy home fans. Instead, they struggled to hit shots and their defense allowed the Illini to overcome an early double-digit hole.
The Gophers jumped out to a 14-3 lead before DeAndre Mathieu — Minnesota’s leading scorer in its previous seven games — was forced to sit with two early fouls. With the Gophers’ floor leader on the bench, the Illini steadily climbed their way back into the game by hitting six of their nine first-half 3-point attempts. Mathieu finished with three points.
Illinois outscored the Gophers 21-13 over the final 11 minutes of the first half. Abrams’ three with 2:13 left in the half brought the Illini to 24-23. Minnesota led 27-24 at halftime, but Illinois outscored Minnesota 22-8 to open the second half. Nunn had 10 points during that stretch, including back-to-back threes and a fast-break dunk that put Illinois ahead 46-35 with just under eight minutes to play.
Nunn scored 19 points for the second time this season, his first time coming Feb. 9 at Penn State. It was his second time scoring in double digits.