SPRINGFIELD — Illinois wasn’t too worried about style points. After one of the worst starts in school history, the Illini just needed a win.
Jalen Coleman-Lands sank a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer, allowing Illinois to escape with an 82-79 victory over Chicago State Monday night.
Michael Finke scored 17 to lead Illinois (2-3), and he ignited a 14-0 run to tie the game at 66 before the Illini stole the victory on the game’s last possession. After Chicago State was called for a shot clock violation with 4.6 seconds left, Illinois’ Malcolm Hill rushed the ball up the court and found Coleman-Lands open in the corner.
“We needed a win,” Coleman-Lands said. “I’m just thankful my teammates trust me. I’m thankful for Malcolm to make that one more pass.”
Coleman-Lands, Hill and Mike Thorne Jr. scored 12 apiece for the Illini.
Elliott Cole scored 21 points to lead Chicago State (3-2).
Illinois won all 11 previous meetings with Chicago State by an average of 29 points. The Illini were already off to their worst start in 50 years. Another loss would have tied the school record for the worst start after five games.
“Tonight, we make the game winner, and I’m supposed to say they’re great?” Illinois coach John Groce said. “I’m a realist. At the end of the day, I want to play well.”
Illinois, which led for only 2 minutes, 28 seconds on Monday night, trailed by double digits in all four games played in Springfield this month.
“I thought they showed a lot of confidence down the stretch,” Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy said. “They never had a look on their faces that said we might lose this game.”
Illinois allowed 81.7 points a game in the four played here at the Prairie Capital Convention Center and 57 3-pointers in the first five games.
“Defense has always been our m.o.,” said Groce. “I’ll be honest. Through the first five games, it would be the worst of the four years (as Illini coach). It’s got to get a lot better.”
Finke scored seven points during the 14-0 run that tied the game at 66. Illinois grabbed a 77-75 lead on a basket by Thorne, but Chicago State bounced back to lead 79-77.
Chicago State built a 40-26 advantage after leading the final 10 minutes of the opening half and didn’t trail again until the closing moments.
Chicago State: The Cougars were picked to finish last in Western Athletic Conference preseason media and coaches polls. Chicago State is 0-2 this season against Power 5 conference teams.
Illinois: The Illini finished with a 2-2 record in the four games played in Springfield while waiting to play in the State Farm Center, which is undergoing a renovation. Illinois plays its first game on campus on Dec. 2 against Notre Dame in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
STAR OF THE GAME
Coleman-Lands’ game winner was the first by an Illini freshman at the buzzer since Frank Williams beat Ohio State on Jan. 6, 2000.
“The main thing told to the players was to attack the rim,” Hill said. “I saw (Coleman-Lands) wide open. I didn’t want to make the game all about me. I just want to win. That was the best shot available at the moment.”
Chicago State plays Jacksonville State on Friday in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.
Illinois faces Alabama-Birmingham on Friday in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.