If you’re an Illinois fan, this was a tough game to watch. From the start, Illinois had trouble scoring the basketball (similar to the game against the Terrapins just six days prior), but the Illini were able themselves to force their way back into the game.
Despite losing the stat line at the free throw line (UNLV attempted 48 free throws to Illinois’ 15), the Illini kept this one close the whole way. UNLV made enough free throws and big shots down the stretch to take the contest, but the Illini showed a lot of fight despite being in foul trouble for essentially the entire second half.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on color commentary: A+
Sorry, Tom. Kareem just did the lllini a HUGE favor by telling stories for a solid seven minutes. This distracted the Runnin’ Rebels just enough for Illinois to go on a run in the first half and bring the game back into reach. Crean actually did a nice job himself, but we have to give credit where credit is due.
Trent Frazier: A
Trent has really been coming into his own as the young season has progressed, and Underwood has been rewarding him with minutes. He was second on the team with 16 points tonight, and was in the game for 26 minutes (nearly 10 minutes more than Te’Jon). Frazier looks poised and has shown his ability to finish around the rim. He finally connected from deep tonight as well, hitting two of his three attempts from beyond the arc.
Mark Smith: A
After a hot start to the season and cooling off against greater conference opponents, Mr. Basketball showed up against the Runnin’ Rebels. Smith led Illinois with 17 points, and was 4-for-4 from three point land until missing his fifth and final attempt of the night. He did foul out in 29 minutes, but Smith showed what he can bring to this team: excellent shooting and physical play. It will be exciting to see him grow along with the other freshmen this season.
Te’Jon Lucas: B-
Te’Jon hasn’t really had an incredible season so far. He wasn’t really spectacular tonight, but did a decent job when he was in the game. He was 3-for-4 from the field but missed a wide open layup late in the second half that would have helped swing the momentum just a bit more towards Illinois. Te’Jon did seem to score when the Illini really needed him to (aside from that layup), so he gets a passing grade for the game.
Michael Finke: D
It seems like a simple scouting report on Finke all but neutralizes him. Although he was a huge factor in Illinois overcoming a close call to Austin Peay at home, Finke was almost non-existent on the offensive end during the first half of the UNLV game. He had a garbage-time three-pointer on the last Illini possession, but he was simply outmatched in the post by UNLV big man Brandon McCoy.
I mean, did you see that guy? If Finke wants to improve his game, he should be more physical in the post. Then the three-pointers will fall into his lap when the opposition has to account for him on more than just one spot on the floor.
Mark Alstork: F
I don’t have much to say about Alstork. He was a non-factor, and fouled out with 0 points. It was certainly not the performance Underwood needed on the road from his most experienced player.
Team Defense: D-
I mentioned the free throw differential earlier, and I would caution Illinois fans to be careful not to fall into “the refs screwed us in this one” narrative. UNLV, for most of the game, was more aggressive on offense than Illinois was. I cannot say whether or not that justifies a 30-plus free throw discrepancy in favor of the Rebels, but there were not several big plays where Illinois was obviously wronged, leading to the outcome they found themselves in.