Photos from the game on Nov. 29, 2016, in Champaign.
After three straight losses, Illinois used its practice time to the fullest heading into Tuesday night’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge game.
But it wasn’t all spent on the court the previous two days, coach John Groce said.
"(We had) individual meetings, team meetings, players (had their) own meeting," he said. "More of it was, ‘Hey, we have to get some of these things figured out. We’re solution based.’ We’re not pointing the finger."
The introspection paid off. Illinois snapped their losing streak with an 88-74 victory over North Carolina State, their first triumph in four years in the annual conference challenge.
Big second-half efforts from Malcolm Hill and Leron Black lifted the Illini (5-3), who shot 67.9 percent as a team in the second half. Hill missed all three of his first-half shots but wound up scoring a game-high 22 points, converting 12 of 15 three throws.
"He was really good tonight," Groce said of Hill.
Black, who shot just 1-for-6 in the first half, finished the game with 15 points on 7 of 14 shooting. He also added eight rebounds off the bench. Guard Tracy Abrams scored 10 of his 17 points before halftime.
The Illini used a different starting lineup in the second half as starter Jaylon Tate did not play after halftime.
Illinois’ newfound depth this season helped the team outscore North Carolina State 39-22 off the bench.
The Illini forced the Wolfpack into 19 turnovers. After turning it over nine times in the first half, Illinois gave it up only twice in the second half.
Late in the second half, Hill went around a defender and scored a nifty layup in the closing minutes, bringing the crowd to its feet and giving the Illinois bench another reason to celebrate.
"We just had fun like we always do," Black said of watching the shot from the bench.
Nobody could say the game lacked intensity.
Angry at a block call on Jalen Coleman-Lands (11 points) at the other end of the court, Groce slammed the scorer’s table with his fist and screamed at the official. Shortly after, North Carolina State guard Markell Johnson and Illini guard Te’Jon Lucas — both freshmen — both were called for technical fouls.
North Carolina State players jawed with the Orange Krush student section.
The Illini said they were certain not to lose their heads after falling to Winthrop at home and then dropping back-to-back games at the NIT Preseason Tip-Off to West Virginia and Florida State.
"We didn’t feel desperate at all," Hill said. "We were just thinking strategy, not thinking woe is us. It’s still early in the season."