Waregem, Belgium–The Fighting Illini opened their European tour with a 68-63 victory Tuesday night over Waregem, a Belgian Division II professional team. Illinois took the court one day after traveling through the night and found itself in a tight game from the outset. Coach John Groce scripted minutes for his squad and stuck to that plan regardless of the score as 11 players saw action, with nine logging at least 14 minutes and no one playing more than 27.
Illinois went on a key 14-3 run late in the third quarter to take a 53-42 lead. The hosts fought back and took a 58-56 lead of its own with five minutes remaining. Freshman D.J. Williams scored on a driving layup to tie it, and Malcolm Hill drained a 3-pointer off an inside-out pass from Mike Thorne to put the Illini ahead 61-58. After Waragem’s Van Hulle hit a jumper to bring them within one, Kendrick Nunn was fouled on a pull-up and made the bucked plus the and-1 to give the Orange and Blue a 64-60 lead.
Waregem again pulled to within one point, but Hill had the answer, driving hard to the basket through traffic and hitting a contested layup with 30 seconds to go to put the Illini up by three. After a defensive stop, Williams calmly knocked down a pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining to close out the five-point win.
Sophomore Leron Black had a double-double, registering game highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds. Hill added 15 points, while Thorne just missed out on a double-double, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Illinois is back in action tomorrow, traveling to Rotterdam to take on the Dutch National Team in the second contest of its four-game tour. Game time is 7 p.m. in the Netherlands (Noon Central).