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Illinois 91, Marshall 74: What we learned

Illinois comfortably beat Marshall behind a career day from Kipper Nichols.

NCAA Basketball: Southern at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois improved to 4-0 with a 91-74 win over the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall started off the game on fire from three-point land, but their shooting cooled late in the first half. Illinois was able to take control in the second half and won a comfortable contest.

Here are some top takeaways.

1. Kipper Nichols keeps getting better

Kipper Nichols had a career high in points (17) and rebounds (11) on his way to his first double-double in 18 minutes of playing time. He is a great scoring threat off of the bench, and he is a capable defender.

Nichols was one of the players pointed to to benefit most from the Brad Underwood hire. He fits the mold of a “positionless player” and can greatly impact the game on both ends of the court. He has enormous potential in this system.

He has been one of the top players for the Illini this season, and it may not be long until he finds himself in the starting lineup.

2. Alstork shooting struggles

Mark Alstork was a big get as a transfer for Brad Underwood. He scored 19 points per game for Wright State last season, and the team was hoping he could pick up some of the scoring load after Illinois lost Malcolm Hill to graduation.

Alstork has not been able to find his scoring touch for Illinois, however. The guard finished the night with only 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting. Alstork is 6-of-24 shooting for the season after four games and has only made one three-pointer.

The rest of his game hasn’t fallen off, despite his shooting struggles. Alstork is one of Illinois’ better perimeter defenders, and he is a plus rebounder and passer.

It could be too early to judge this, and it may just be a statistical anomaly. It also wasn’t expected that Alstork would average 19 points for Illinois this year. It also could be an issue with confidence, and the cure could be to hit a three or two to get back into the swing of things.

With how some of the Illini bench players have been performing — Nichols, and Aaron Jordan especially — Alstork will need to step up his play if he wants to keep his starting spot.

It’s only his fourth game with a new team and I expect him to bounce back, but his shooting woes are concerning early in the season.

3. Points off turnovers

Illinois had eight steals and forced Marshall into 19 turnovers. Illinois was able to get 32 points off of giveaways from the Herd.

Getting easy buckets in transition is a key area of focus for Underwood. His up-tempo and high pressure style of play can overwhelm teams, and it certainly made Marshall uncomfortable tonight.

But Marshall isn’t a talented team. I’m very curious to see how this style works in the slower paced and physical play of the Big Ten. No one else in the Big Ten plays a style close to this and it might be an advantage for Illinois.

They will need to smooth some of the edges out on defense for it to be effective in conference play. There are still plenty of non-conference games to go for Underwood to work with the team.

4. Leron Black has stepped it up this year

Black had another good game tonight. He finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assist and 1 steal. He makes few mistakes when he has the ball and always plays hard.

Oh and he had this great dunk tonight.

Black looks like he may be filling a key leadership role for this young Illinois team. His passion on the court is always high, but he plays with a controlled passion. He finished the night with only one foul in 26 minutes of play despite spending most of his time defending the post.

Illinois needs Black to be a key presence in the post for this offense to be at it’s best. So far he has done exactly what the Illini need.