Illinois battled down to the last minute in a tough contest against the Providence Friars. While Providence led by a few for the majority of the game, Illinois was able to hit some huge shots in the second half to take a three-point lead. Both teams struggled offensively in the last 5 minutes, but Providence had a 1 point lead going into the final possession. Illinois' Malcolm Hill drove the lane with 10 seconds left and just missed a highly-contested layup through contact. Michael Finke came soaring in and missed the put-back dunk off the back iron. Illinois got the board and got one last shot from Malcolm Hill, but it came up short from three. Illinois lost 60-59.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
1. The Freshmen Stepped it Up With the Game on the Line
With the upperclassmen struggling at the beginning of the second half, Illinois utilized inspiring play from its young guns to stay in the game. Michael Finke scored 8 straight for Illinois at the beginning of the second half and fueled the offensive spark it needed to get back into the game. Finke also had an incredible pass to fellow freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands who, by the way, led Illinois with 17 points on the night.
Jalen Coleman-Lands began lighting it up from the outside. The freshman hit 5 of his 7 three point attempts helping Illinois fight neck and neck with the Friars. Whenever Illinois needed a big bucket, he was there to deliver a triple on cue. He also had a crucial steal late in the contest that set Malcolm Hill up for a jump shot that tied the game. The freshman Aaron Jordan was also impressive as he added a crucial three pointer and 3 assists.
2. Illinois Can't Let It's Bigs Wind Up in Foul Trouble
The missing pieces to tonight's puzzle were Leron Black and Mike Thorne Jr. The two remained scoreless for the entire contest as they sat on the bench for the majority of the game in foul trouble. Thorne Jr. fouled out of the contest with about 5 minutes to go in the second half.
Even when the two did see the floor, they struggled immensely. Right when Illinois needed a bucket, Thorne Jr. missed an easy lay-up and picked up his fifth foul on the other end of the floor. Leron Black picked up a number of cheap fouls, including a moving screen in the first half. Without those two, Illinois is missing a major piece of its offensive scheme. Thorne Jr. came into the game averaging 23 points per game and left Providence with 0.
3. Kris Dunn Who?
All of the talk leading up to this matchup was about how Illinois was going to get lit up by Providence's superstar Kris Dunn. That wasn't quite the story, though he was a major impact in the second half. Illinois had his number all game, and it took Dunn 31 minutes to score his first field goal. In addition, he sat out a good portion of the second half in foul trouble. But with the game on the line, Kris Dunn still managed to score 10 points and pull down 8 boards for the Friars, including a huge dunk that got the crowd back into the game.
When Illinois plays against a team with a superstar, it always seems as if that superstar doesn't erupt as well as some other player does. In tonight's case, that player was Ben Bentil. The sophomore absolutely killed Illinois on the glass as he pulled down 11 boards. He scored 18 on the night and always got a solid bucket in the post when the Friars needed one.
It's tough to be an Illini fan right now, but it is hard to deny that Illinois really fought hard in this one. Despite the fact that Illinois has gotten off to a 1-2 start on the young season, there are plenty of opportunities to rebound and get back in position to make the NCAA Tournament come March. It looks as if Illinois has gotten a little bit better each game, which is good. If you look at Illinois in its last two seasons, it's started off solid and gradually gotten worse. It is always better to be hot in February and March than in November and December. Purdue had a rough non-conference season last year and ended up being a dangerous team in March. Anything can happen, and it's still a long season ahead. It wasn't the result we wanted in this one, but a good effort by Illinois regardless.