CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Brian Randle scored the first two points for Illinois on Wednesday night. He was on the bench with two fouls less than two minutes later.
He stayed there until halftime but broke loose in the second half with an alley-oop dunk, a three-point play and a steal during a 15-2 run that helped the eighth-ranked Illini to a 77-53 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night.
“I was fresh as can be. I think I played like a minute-and-a-half the first half so I was just sitting there waiting to get back in,” Randle said. “The second half we stepped up the intensity on defense, on offense, got some runouts and just wore them down.”
Guards Dee Brown and Jamar Smith scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Randle and James Augustine combined for 23 down low to help extend Illinois’ home winning streak to a school-record 32 games.
Illinois (18-2, 4-2 Big Ten) is tied with No. 7 Gonzaga for second-longest home streak in the country. Southern Illinois has won 33 straight at home.
“The dang Salukis keep winning so we’ve got to stay on their tails,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who was SIU’s head coach from 1999-2003.
With Brown going 3-of-6 and Smith hitting 5-of-8 from 3-point range, Augustine, Randle and Shaun Pruitt were able to get open shots under the basket as the Illini worked relentlessly to push the ball down low whenever possible. Augustine scored 13 points and Pruitt had seven.
“We’ve got to get points in the paint somehow,” Weber said, “whether it’s layups in transition, offensive rebounds, penetration dribble, (or) free throws. It balances out our attack.”
And it finally broke the Golden Gophers’ confidence after they had drawn within 52-46 on Vincent Grier’s basket with 12:07 to go. Grier’s next shot missed and Minnesota (9-8, 0-6) fell apart.
“Vince missed a left-handed lay-in and all of a sudden we looked like a team that didn’t have confidence,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “I’m really, really disappointed that we broke down defensively.”
Grier and Maurice Hargrow each scored 14 points and J’son Stamper added 10 for Minnesota, which lost to Illinois for the 14th straight time.
“We’re a team that still doesn’t have an identity,” Monson said. “They have an identity. They’ve got roles and their role guys really did a good job tonight.”
The Illini began their current streak on Jan. 17, 2004, with an 88-82 win over Iowa. But perhaps more remarkably, the Illini have lost only twice in their last 79 home games going back to January 2000.
“I think it’s really just a tribute to our program, a tribute to Coach Weber, the guys we’ve had in here in the past and just a tribute to our program,” Randle said. “The intensity at which we play, how we prepare and go about things.”
Minnesota kept the game close for most of the first half, but Marcus Arnold’s layup finished off a 13-5 run that pushed the Illini’s lead to 39-29 with 51 seconds left. The Gophers closed to 41-37 on two free throws by Stamper, but Brown’s 3-pointer started an 8-1 run and Minnesota never got closer than six points again.