The Illinois Fighting Illini had their hands full with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their Big Ten Conference opener Tuesday night. It took the Illini two overtimes to decide the first Big Ten contest of the 2011-2012 basketball season by a score of 81-72.
At halftime the Illini held a double-digit lead, up 37-27. Minnesota came back in the second half to outscore the Illini 37-27 to send the game into the first overtime period tied at 64-64. Minnesota missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity that could have potentially sealed the game, but Illinois rebounded the miss and proceeded to score the game-tying points to send the matchup into OT.
At the end of the first overtime the game was tied up 70-70 after each team only managed to score six points. In the second overtime it seemed that Illinois got a second wind to will themselves to the victory over the Gophers.
The Fighting Illini had five players score double digits including great overall performances from G Paul Brandon and C Leonard Meyers. Brandon recorded a team-high 21 points while also contributing seven rebounds, six assists and two steals for coach Bruce Weber's winning cause. Meyers posted up a double-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and an assist.
The Golden Gophers were not at a loss for scoring threats despite the loss of star F Trevor Mbakwe early in the season. The Golden Gophers had two players achieve double-digit scoring with fantastic efforts from F-C Ralph Sampson III and G Julian Welch. Sampson III posted up a game-high 22 points, complimented by eight rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks. Welch contributed 15 points, four assists, a rebound and a steal to the Gophers' losing effort.
With this loss Minnesota drops to 12-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play while Illinois rises to 12-2 overall and starts off 1-0 in conference play. Illinois travels to Mackey Arena next to play at the Purdue Boilermakers at 4:00 PM ET on December 31st. Minnesota will try to bounce back on January 1st 4:00 PM ET at the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines.