Fresh off one of its best shooting games of the season, Illinois has quieted some of the critics following an embarrassing offensive performance.
Another lackluster effort against Minnesota on Thursday night, though, could leave the 20th-ranked Fighting Illini subject to even more ridicule.
Back at Assembly Hall for the first time since last Wednesday’s 38-33 loss to Penn State, Illinois looks for its 11th straight home win against the Golden Gophers.
The Illini (22-6, 10-5 Big Ten) had their lowest-scoring game since a 34-31 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 6, 1947, last week but rebounded to win their third straight conference road game Sunday, 70-68 over Ohio State behind Mike Davis’ 22 points and eight rebounds.
“It was definitely tough,” Davis said of the loss to the Nittany Lions. “I didn’t watch too much TV because I knew everyone was making fun of us. I just couldn’t wait to get back out here on the court for this game because I wanted to show everybody we’re a good team.”
Illinois won for the fourth time in five games Sunday, shooting 58.3 percent from the field, including 9-of-17 from 3-point range.
“They hit big shots, key shots, with the (shot clock) buzzer going off,” Ohio State guard Evan Turner said. “They did what they needed to do to win this game.”
Senior guard Trent Meacham hit four 3s and scored 17 after having seven points against Penn State.
“Thirty-three points? That’s hard to do,” Meacham said Sunday. “You watch the Phoenix Suns, they put up more than 33 points in a quarter!”
The last time Illinois faced Minnesota, however, it nearly didn’t reach that mark. The Illini had their 20-game winning streak over the Gophers snapped Jan. 29 with a 59-36 loss at Williams Arena. Minnesota (20-7, 8-7) had not defeated Illinois since a 75-63 home victory Feb. 3, 1999.
“You feel as low as you can feel,” coach Bruce Weber said after his team shot a season-low 29.4 percent from the field last month against the Gophers. “It’s a humbler, that’s for sure.”
Minnesota dropped four of five following that victory before Sunday’s 72-45 win over visiting Northwestern.
“It’s huge, because we need all the wins we can get and I think Michigan lost today and Wisconsin, so that puts us right back in the mix of things,” Gophers leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook told the school’s official Web site.
Westbrook is averaging 14.5 points in his last two games after totaling 18 in the previous four. He’ll likely need another performance similar to his Jan. 29 effort of 15 points and six rebounds if Minnesota is going to leave Champaign with a win for the first time since a 67-66 victory March 9, 1996.
That victory, however, has since been vacated due to the Gophers’ academic fraud scandal. Minnesota’s previous win at Assembly Hall was 75-69 on Feb. 16, 1978.
The Gophers shot 51.2 percent versus Northwestern, but they could find it more difficult to score Thursday against one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation. Illinois is third in Division I in scoring defense at 56.2 points per game and 24th in field goal defense at 39.5 percent.