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Illinois’ narrow escape vs. Gardner-Webb on Sunday, John Groce wanted to see
better toughness when the No. 22 Illini took on Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten
Illini showed toughness all right. Despite scuffling offensively for long
stretches, they rallied for a 75-62 victory on Wednesday to improve to 8-0.
had said, `Would you predict 8-0?’ I probably wouldn’t have been bold enough to
do that,” Groce said. “But our guys have been resilient. We’ve been popped in
the mouth two or three times and come back in games and made big plays down the
stretch. Hopefully we continue to do that.”
leader of this comeback was redshirt junior Joseph Bertrand, who put on an
offensive show, including a Nightly Top 10 hang-time drive to the basket that
helped Illinois stay unbeaten. The 6-6 sixth man scored 10 straight points,
lifting Illinois from a 58-54 deficit with 7:15 left to a 64-58 lead with 5:25
left against the Yellow Jackets (4-2).
brings energy off the bench,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
“He’s a great athlete–and he’s just streaky enough to be dangerous.”
and Brandon Paul finished with 15 points apiece, and Tyler Griffey and D.J.
Richardson each had 14 points for Illinois.
victory allowed the Big Ten to salvage a 6-6 tie in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Midwesterners were 4-2 on Tuesday, but surprising losses by No. 13 Michigan
State in Miami and by Wisconsin at home to Virginia were costly in their bid
for a fourth straight Challenge title.
ACC now leads 10-3-1 in the series.
36-35 after a see-saw first half, Illinois seemed to take control at the start
of the second half. It made its first three shots, including three-balls by
Richardson and Griffey, to go ahead 44-37.
Georgia Tech took charge and led 58-54 with 7:15 left. That’s when Illinois,
led by Bertrand, answered with a 21-4 barrage to end the game.
get to know him, Joe can come off like a quiet guy,” Groce said. “But Joe has
big-time energy. Joe loves to compete. And tonight he competed. He really
ignited the 21-4 run.”
Groce’s 8-0 start is the second best by a first-year coach at Illinois. Fletcher Lane started 12-0 in 1907-08, his only season
as Illini coach.
is 7-1 vs. Georgia Tech, including a 103-92 double overtime victory on Jan. 22,
1989. That was the only other time
Tech has come to Champaign. With that victory, Illinois improved to 17-0 and
was ranked No. 1 in the nation the next day.