Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From the North Carolina State Win

Illinois Basketball

Nov 25, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce talks to a referee during the first half of his game against the Florida State Seminoles in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team ended their three-game losing streak last night as they beat the North Carolina State Wolfpack, 88-74.

This was a big win for John Groce and his Illini.  They showed that this season isn’t over and they are going to keep fighting.

Here are my three observations from the win over the Wolfpack.

Groce is Figuring Out the PG Situation

Throughout the first seven games this season, it seemed like John Groce couldn’t quite come to grips that a true freshman point guard was a better option than a four-year senior.

During the North Carolina State game last night, it felt like he finally came to terms with this fact and the final score reflected the change.

Illinois was exchanging blows in the first half against the Wolfpack, but whenever Jaylon Tate would head to the bench the Illini would make a little run.

I believe at the end of the first half the Illini were down by 4 points when Tate was in the game and they were up by 3 points when he was riding the pine.

Something must have clicked in Groce’s head or he was told this stat because the entire second half Tate was not seen on the court.

Illinois ended up winning the game 88-74 and moved to 5-3 on the season.  They needed this game and I think they finally have a stable point guard situation.

I expect Tracy Abrams to continue to start and then Te’Jon Lucas should come off the bench in roughly a 50-50 time share.  Hopefully, that happens but knowing the past, anything is possible.

Nov 25, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Malcolm Hill (21) is defends by Florida State Seminoles guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) during the second half of the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center. Florida State won, 72-61. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Hill Stepped Up

The beginning of the season was spectacular for Malcolm Hill.  He was averaging 22.25 points per game and that included a 40-point performance.

But, when the tough part of the schedule hit, Hill came back down to Earth pretty hard.

During the three-game losing streak, Hill averaged 13 points and 4 turnovers per game.  This is not All-Big Ten caliber type of play.

Last night something clicked for Hill, though.  He showed some energy we haven’t seen this season.

Hill managed to put up 22 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.  He had one of those nights we have been expecting a senior, and potentially NBA Draftee, to have.

Illinois as a team had that buzz about them as well.  You could tell they were playing for their basketball lives against North Carolina State.  They all really stepped up their game.

One of the main reasons that they had this energy was because of how Hill was playing.

Hill did more than just put up numbers as well.  He did it all very efficiently.

This season, Hill has averaged 2.2 TPG, which isn’t terrible, but last night he only had one turnover and that helped the team tremendously.

I was also impressed by Hill not taking as many three-point shots.  He was aggressive the entire night and was able to shoot 15 free throws.

If Hill can continue the efficient play then the Illini will continue to win.

Mar 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) leads a fast break against Purdue Boilermakers guard P.J. Thompson (3) and center A.J. Hammons (20) during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Black and Coleman-Lands Should Both Be Starting

The Starting lineup for the game against North Carolina State was Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate in the backcourt, along with Malcolm Hill, Michael Finke and Mike Thorne Jr. in the frontcourt.

This hasn’t been the best lineup the Illini have put out there but Groce went with it anyways.

Despite Leron Black and Jalen Coleman-Lands not starting, they both received a good amount of minutes.

Black played 26 minutes and was an absolute beast.  He put up 15 points and pulled down 8 rebounds in the playing time he received.

Coleman-Lands played 25 minutes and knocked down 3-of-5 from the three-point line.  He finished with 11 points on the night.

Both of these players are Big Ten starting caliber and they need to be in the lineup against VCU.

I want to see Coleman-Lands replace Tate and Black replace Thorne in the starting five.

Now I know this reduces the size of the team in the paint, but Black brings a ferocity that Thorne doesn’t.  He can go and get rebounds purely based on athletic ability as well.

I think the Illini have a good team as long as they use their players right.  This team can still salvage this season, but it all depends on Groce’s next move.

This article originally appeared on