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Illinois stays perfect with win over Georgia Tech

Illinois' NnannEgwu (32) rejects shot by GeorgiTech Robert Carter Jr. (4)  during first half an NCAA college basketball game

Illinois' Nnanna Egwu (32) rejects the shot by Georgia Tech Robert Carter, Jr. (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, IL. Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Robert K. O'Daniell)

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ACC/Big Ten

challenge ends
in 6-6 tie


Minnesota 77, at Florida State 68

At Virginia Tech 95, Iowa 79

At Michigan 79, N.C. State 72

Maryland 77, at Northwestern 57

Nebraska 79, at Wake Forest 63

At Indiana 83, North Carolina 59


Virginia 60, at Wisconsin 54

Purdue 73, at Clemson 61

At Miami 67, Michigan State 59

At Illinois 75, Georgia Tech 62

Boston Coll. 73, at Penn State 61

At Duke 73, Ohio State 68

Updated: December 30, 2012 4:06PM

CHAMPAIGN — After Illinois’ narrow escape Sunday against Gardner-Webb, coach John Groce wanted to see better toughness when the No. 22 Illini took on Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Illini showed toughness all right. Despite scuffling offensively for long stretches, they rallied for a 75-62 victory Wednesday to improve to 8-0.

‘‘If you had said, ‘Would you predict 8-0?’ I probably wouldn’t have been bold enough to do that,’’ Groce said. ‘‘But our guys have been resilient. We’ve been popped in the mouth two or three times and come back in games and made big plays down the stretch. Hopefully, we continue to do that.’’

The leader of this comeback was redshirt junior Joseph Bertrand, who put on an offensive show, including a spectacular hang-time drive to the basket that helped Illinois stay unbeaten. The 6-6 sixth man scored 10 consecutive points, lifting Illinois from a 58-54 deficit with 7:15 left to a 64-58 lead with 5:25 left against the Yellow Jackets (4-2).

‘‘[Bertrand] brings energy off the bench,’’ Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. ‘‘He’s a great athlete — and he’s just streaky enough to be dangerous.’’

Bertrand and Brandon Paul finished with 15 points apiece, and Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson each had 14 points for Illinois.

Illinois’ victory allowed the Big Ten to salvage a 6-6 tie in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Midwesterners were 4-2 on Tuesday, but surprising losses by No. 13 Michigan State in Miami and by Wisconsin at home to Virginia were costly in their bid for a fourth consecutive Challenge title. The ACC leads 10-3-1 in the series.

Leading 36-35 after a seesaw first half, Illinois seemed to take control at the start of the second half. It made its first three shots, including three-pointers by Richardson and Griffey, to go ahead 44-37.

But Georgia Tech took charge and led 58-54 with 7:15 left. That’s when Illinois, led by Bertrand, answered with a 21-4 barrage.

‘‘Until you get to know him, Joe can come off like a quiet guy,’’ Groce said. ‘‘But Joe has big-time energy. Joe loves to compete. He really ignited the 21-4 run.’’


John Groce’s 8-0 start is the second-best by a first-year coach at Illinois along with Harry Combes (1947-48). Fletcher Lane started 12-0 in 1907-08, his only season as Illini coach.

◆ Illinois is 7-1 against Georgia Tech, including a 103-92 double-OT victory Jan. 22, 1989. That was the only other time Tech has come to Champaign. With that win, Illinois improved to 17-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation the next day.

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