(MCT) — CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois guard Brandon Paul headed to the locker room after several minutes in the first half when ice and cotton balls could not stop blood from pouring out of his left nostril.
The rest of the team knew the feeling.
No. 12 lllinois (14-3, 1-2 Big Ten) could not stop its problems from hemorrhaging as physical No. 8 Minnesota (15-1, 3-0) bloodied them with an 84-67 victory Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.
The Illini struggled to find their shooting touch against Minnesota’s defense and had no way to stop the Gophers’ effortless shooting.
The Gophers were as hot (52.9 percent field goal percentage, including 60 percent on 3-pointers) as the Illini were cold. Illinois made only 23 of 65 shots (35.4 percent), hitting only 3 of 24 3-pointers.
“I thought we were pretty tough tonight,” Groce said. “We played our butts off. Our execution was awful.”
Illinois could not have thought things were going well when Gophers guard Andre Hollins banked in a 3-pointer nearly from half court to beat the shot clock for a 42-30 lead early in the second half.
But the Illini answered with a 10-0 run to close to 44-42 with 12 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. After a foul on center Nnanna Egwu, Groce became enraged he ripped off his jacket and threw it toward the bench as he chewed out the referees.
Point guard Tracy Abrams, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, made three straight shots during the run.
But Minnesota quickly found its footing and reclaimed a nine-point lead after the Illini run.
“I’m very impressed with our poise and the way we were able to gather ourselves,” said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, whose team plays at No. 5 Indiana and is host to No. 2 Michigan next.
The Illini were out for consecutive victories against top-10 opponents for the first time since 2005’s NCAA tournament.
Illinois hoped to replicate the energy that helped push them past then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday before a second-straight sellout crowd but instead got pummeled by the deep, physical and balanced Gophers, who are looking more and more like a Big Ten title contender.
“They do a lot of things really well,” Groce said. “They expose you and they make you pay for execution errors.”
Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe overcame a dominating dunk on him by Paul to score 19 points with 11 rebounds. Guard Joe Coleman scored a career high 29 points for the Gophers.
Egwu continued to show growth, battling Mbakwe inside and finishing with eight points and nine rebounds.
Paul wore a No. 12 jersey, a la Michael Jordan, after he bloodied his first uniform from the nosebleed but returned to his usual No. 3 jersey after halftime.
The wardrobe change did not change much for his shooting night as he scored a team-high 21 points but shot only 1 of 6 3-point shots, 6 of 17 overall.