Preview: IUPUI at Illinois

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[December 06, 2016]  SportsDirect Inc.

Illinois appeared to be on the verge of heading down the same path it did last year when it posted its worst record of the century, but the program may be back on track after recently experiencing a forgettable three-game stretch. The Fighting Illini attempt to build off back-to-back solid victories Tuesday when they host IUPUI for the first time since their initial meeting exactly 10 years ago.

Following a 4-0 start, Illinois dropped an overtime home game to Winthrop on Nov. 21 before getting blasted by No. 16 West Virginia 89-57 on Thanksgiving and falling to Florida State 72-61 the next day at the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York. The Illini, whose 15-19 mark in 2015-16 was its lowest point since 1998-99, returned home to defeat North Carolina State 88-74 last Tuesday and turned in a stellar defensive effort to pull away for a 64-46 win over VCU in Miami on Saturday. "I'm proud of our guys for the way they responded from where we were at last week. I love the fact that (everyone) said, 'Let's get this stuff fixed. Let's come up with solutions'," coach John Groce said. The Jaguars, who are playing eight of their first 10 games away from home this season, also got back on the right track with their first road win of the season Saturday, defeating Ball State 73-62.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3

ABOUT IUPUI (3-5): "I thought (D.J. McCall) was the difference in the game, especially in the second half. He brought us a lot of energy and toughness and ... did the dirty work that we needed to win," coach Jason Gardner said after his sophomore guard grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds and the Jaguars overcame an 11-point second-half deficit Saturday. Darell Combs (16.9 points) and Matt O'Leary (14 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, three assists) are IUPUI's only double-digit scorers; the latter ranks seventh in the Summit League in rebounding, eighth in assists and 11th in scoring. Syracuse transfer Ron Patterson (9.8 points) has drained at least three 3-pointers five times this season but is 0-for-3 beyond the arc in each of the team's other three contests.

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ABOUT ILLINOIS (6-3): In addition to holding the Rams to their lowest point total in nearly 11 years, the Illini grabbed at least 11 offensive boards for the fourth straight game and are averaging 10.7 this season - one year after finishing last in the Big Ten with 7.6. Malcolm Hill is third in the conference in scoring (18.4 points) and is one of four players in the league to rank among the top 13 in points and rebounds (seven per game). Leron Black (12.8 points, eight boards per game) returned from a four-game suspension at the same time the Illini went on their losing streak, but the sophomore forward is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds over his last three games.

TIP-INS

1. The victory against VCU was the 1,750th in program history for the Illini - the 14th-best mark in Division I history.

2. Hill already has 21 3-pointers this season after hitting 37 in 2015-16.

3. Illinois G Tracy Abrams is 11 points shy of becoming the 49th player in school history to reach 1,000 for his career.

PREDICTION: Illinois 81, IUPUI 65

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