Illinois barely survives UIC upset bid

Photo: Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics

CHICAGO — Malcolm Hill scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half as Illinois held off UIC Saturday at the United Center, 83-79.

Photo: Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics

Photo: Mark Jones, Illinois Athletics

 

After trailing 41-30 at halftime, UIC (1-6) used a 14-0 run in the second half to grab a 58-54 advantage with 9:53 remaining. Illinois recovered, and then UIC freshman Dikembe Dixson drilled a deep 3-pointer to put the Flames back ahead by two with 5:15 to go.

A 6-0 spurt capped by a Kendrick Nunn triple with 1:12 left gave Illinois (6-5) a 76-68 lead and sunk the dagger in UIC, which has now lost four games in a row.

With the frontcourt thinned by injuries, the Illini got a big performance from versatile 6-foot-10 freshman Michael Finke. Finke had 14 points, 12 of which came in the first half as the Illini built a double-digit lead.

“He’s good now, I think he can be even better,” coach John Groce said. “More strength, more experience. … He has a skill set like a guard at 6-foot-10. That’s pretty rare. He can pass, shoot, dribble, score from all areas of the floor.”

As Finke became less of a factor in the second half, Hill took over as Illinois’ main offensive force.

Hill needed only eight field-goal attempts to get his 22 points, as he got the foul line like a machine. The junior shot 11-of-14 at the charity stripe.

Two other Illini players, freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands and Nunn, reached double figures with 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Dixson led UIC with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his first career double-double. Freshman guard Dominique Matthews posted a career-high 18 points, all in the first half.

“I’m probably as hard on those two for two freshman as you can be,” coach Steve McClain said, “because I need them to grow up quickly. I need them to play like veterans.”

UIC returns to the UIC Pavilion on Wednesday for another in-state matchup against Illinois State.

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