Illinois’ leading scorer could return Thursday night vs. Michigan

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After suffering a broken left wrist early in Big Ten play, Illinois senior guard Rayvonte Rice was suspended right around the time that he was expected to return to game action. With Michigan visiting Champaign Thursday night, it’s possible that Illinois will have its leading scorer on the court for the first time since their loss at Ohio State January 3.

According to Mark Tupper of the Decatur (Illinois) Herald-Review, Rice is expected to make his return on the same night that Illinois will honor its 2004-05 national runner-up team.

“Source tells me Ray Rice will play for tonight vs. Michigan but Aaron Cosby will not. That would be interesting. We’ll see,” Tupper tweeted Thursday afternoon.

The return of Rice would be big news for Illinois, as he’s averaging 17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game on the season. Rice put up those scoring numbers in an efficient manner too, shooting 51.5% from the field, 48.3% from three and 80.3% from the foul line. One of the changes in Illinois since Rice left the lineup was the emergence of sophomore Malcolm Hill, who has been one of the most improved players in the country.

On the season Hill is averaging 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest, shooting 48.2% from the field, 41.7% from three and nearly 78 percent from the charity stripe. He’s scored in double figures in nine games since Rice suffered his wrist injury, including a 28-point performance in a win over Maryland in the first game post-Rice.

Illinois has won six of the nine games they’ve played since Rice went down, and Hill is a big reason why. If those two can mesh together, head coach John Groce will have a nice one-two punch to rely on as Illinois looks to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.