Illinois will look to build on the momentum from an easy home win when it takes on New Mexico State at the United Center in Chicago in the Dynegy Shootout on Saturday. The Fighting Illini matched their season-best margin of victory in topping Longwood 92-45 on Wednesday, while the Aggies have won two straight and seven of their last eight heading into the contest that will honor Lou Henson, who coached at both schools.
Zach Lofton leads New Mexico State in scoring at 19.2 points per game, while Jemerrio Jones has been a jack of all trades, pacing the team in rebounds (11.5), assists (3.3) and steals (1.1) to go along with his 10.7 points. Coach Chris Jans’ squad is solid defensively, holding opponents to an average of 64.8 points, but they’ll be in for a big test against an Illinois squad averaging 83.7 points. Four players are scoring in double figures for Brad Underwood, including Leron Black (13.6 points), Michael Finke (12.3) and Aaron Jordan (12.3). Jordan is among the top long-range shooters in the country, hitting 60.4 percent from beyond the arc as 29 of his 45 field goals this season have been 3-pointers.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT NEW MEXICO STATE (8-2): While the Aggies are excelling defensively thanks to their defense, guard Sidy N‘Dir has developed into the team’s stopper. Though only 6-2, N‘Dir is able to play at point guard, shooting guard or small forward, and he can guard each of those positions as well. Jans has confidence in N‘Dir’s defensive ability, sticking him on the opposition’s top scorer and, more often than not, he holds that player below his season average.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (8-4): Underwood was thrilled to get an easy win over Longwood, but he was most thrilled by how his team did it - moving the ball. In his first season coaching the Illini, Underwood has been imploring his team not to let the ball stick in one spot of the floor when running the offense, and it listened, finishing with 20 assists on 34 made baskets while winning by 47 points. The Illini shot 46.6 percent and eight different players recorded assists, proving that sharing the basketball can lead to victories.
1. Jones recorded a triple-double (10 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in the Aggies’ win over Eastern New Mexico on Tuesday, the first by a New Mexico State player since February 2012.
2. Illini freshman G Trent Frazier set a new career high for the second consecutive game, scoring 20 points in the win over Longwood after recording 16 in a loss to UNLV.
3. Illinois has played 51 games at the United Center since it opened in 1994, compiling 37 wins - including their last two contests in the arena.
PREDICTION: Illinois 76, New Mexico State 71