Just a couple days after finding out that they would be without leading scorer Rayvonte Rice for at least three weeks with a broken left hand, Illinois picked up its biggest win of the season by defeating No. 11 Maryland 64-57 in Champaign. Of course Malcolm Hill’s 28 points and seven rebounds had a lot to do with the victory, but so did Illinois’ effort in the defensive end of the floor.
The Fighting Illini limited the Terrapins to 36 percent shooting from the field, with senior forward/center Nnanna Egwu spearheading the effort. Egwu, who finished the game with 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, also produced one of the best defensive sequences you’re going to see this season with just under six minutes remaining in the game.
It all began with Egwu “walling up” on junior forward Jake Layman in the paint, forcing Layman to kick the ball back out to Melo Trimble who subsequently reset the offense. The next step for Egwu: keep Trimble from turning the corner on a ball screen set to free the freshman point guard of Ahmad Starks with the two Illinois defenders switching the screen.
With that accomplished Egwu then successfully made his way back to the right wing to momentarily deter Layman from attempting either a shot over the undersized Starks or driving to the basket. Layman gave the ball back to Trimble, who then attempted to get to the basket with the shot clock running down. Egwu stayed with him step for step and then began an Illinois break to the other end with a blocked shot.
This was a highly impressive display by Egwu, and as a team Illinois will need to continue to defend at the level they did against Maryland if they’re to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid after missing out last season.
Vine credit: Robert