Minnesota overtakes Illinois 77-72 in OT

Published 11:58 am Monday, January 30, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota coach Tubby Smith has long used the mass substitution in his game plans.

The Gophers rode the instant energy Smith seeks from his reserves to a highly caffeinated comeback victory over Illinois on Saturday.

Chip Armelin scored a season-high 14 points, Austin Hollins highlighted a whirlwind ending in the final minutes to finish with 14 points and Minnesota defeated the Fighting Illini 77-72 in overtime.

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Starters Rodney Williams, Ralph Sampson III and Julian Welch had quiet games for the Gophers (16-6, 4-5 Big Ten), but their bench outscored the Illini’s 39-9. Elliott Eliason, Oto Osenieks and Andre Hollins backed up Armelin’s big game to lead the second unit.

“They played with a lot of passion. Not that the other guys didn’t, but sometimes I think the (starters) kind of want to pace themselves some,” Smith said, then contrasted that with his reserves: “But when they go in the game, they’re going all out.”

Illinois coach Bruce Weber called this game his team’s breaking point, and the Fighting Illini faltered when Minnesota cranked up the energy and fed off its first sellout crowd of the season.

Brandon Paul had 22 of his 28 points after the break for the Illini (15-6, 4-4), who surged ahead while the Gophers slumped through a 2 for 9 stretch at the free-throw line during the second half. But Meyers Leonard, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, committed a costly fifth foul with 4 seconds left to give Austin Hollins a three-point play that tied the game at 64.

Weber questioned the foul, describing the call on Leonard as “a little bump.” Austin Hollins acknowledged it could’ve gone either way.

“It was pretty mediocre,” Hollins said.

Now Illinois, which lost to Minnesota for only the third time in the last 26 meetings, must bounce back the way the Gophers did from four straight losses to start the conference season.

“We’ve got to do what Tubby did,” Weber said. “Now we’ll see what we’re all about.”

Paul had six turnovers and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, and the Illini finished 3 for 21 from behind the arc.

“We fought. We dove on the floor sometimes. We played tough, but they made plays at the end,” Paul said.

Andre Hollins stole a cross-court pass out of the post by Leonard, setting up a three-point play on the other end when Elliott Eliason made a free throw, missed the second, and Rodney Williams followed with a dunk on the rebound — tying the game at 58 with 58 seconds left in regulation.

“He’s good for one of those a game, at least,” said Austin Hollins, who stepped out of bounds after catching an inbound pass with 44 seconds left. He made up for the mistake by swishing a 3-pointer on the next possession to cut the lead to 62-61.