CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Matthew Mayer scored 22 points and Illinois handed Minnesota its 10th straight loss with a 78-69 victory on Monday night.
Mayer made 7 of 14 shots with two 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds for the Fighting Illini (18-9, 9-7 Big Ten Conference), who snapped a two-game skid. Jayden Epps sank 4 of 6 from beyond the arc and scored 17. Coleman Hawkins added 16 points and seven boards, while Dain Dainja scored 12. RJ Melendez pitched in with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
After the game, Melendez said his double-double felt good after he missed a shot at Indiana on Saturday that would have forced overtime.
“It was really great, actually, just knowing that (it’s) my first career double-double, and having these guys having my back every single day and trusting in me,” Melendez said. “It just gives me the confidence to go out and keep playing hard.”
Jamison Battle scored a season-high 31 for the Golden Gophers (7-18, 1-14). Battle hit 11 of 20 shots with four 3-pointers, adding six rebounds and three assists. Dawson Garcia added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Joshua Ola-Joseph scored 11 on 5-of-6 shooting.
Hawkins hit two-3-pointers and scored 11 to help Illinois lead 35-29 at halftime. Garcia scored 12 on 6-of-10 shooting to keep Minnesota close. Mayer’s layup gave Illinois a 4-2 lead 91 seconds in and the Fighting Illini upped their advantage to 26-14 with 5:50 left.
Battle answered with a 3-pointer and Garcia sank a jumper to cap a 15-6 run as the Golden Gophers pulled within three before Hawkins buried a 3-pointer for the halftime margin.
Epps hit two 3-pointers and scored the first eight points of the second half to push the Illinois lead to 43-29 with 17:29 remaining. Jaden Henley ended Epps’ run with a dunk, but Minnesota would get no closer than eight from there.
It was the Illini’s second straight game without leading scorer Terrence Shannon, Jr., who is in the concussion protocol. Mayer said the team has had to adjust without Shannon in the lineup.
“He gets so many easy points in transition, so we know that we’re going to have to be more crisp on offense,” Mayer said. “He’s also a great defender. I mean, he does everything. We just had to be like, ‘alright, we’re missing an All-American caliber player, let’s just go do it, man.'”
Illinois: The Fighting Illini host No. 21 Northwestern on Thursday.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers travel to play Maryland on Wednesday.
Illinois Newsroom’s Brian Moline contributed reporting to this story.