I am really, really having a hard time with these games this year. Wake Forest, Northwestern, Maryland...those were bad enough. This team just seems to fall into an early deficit, fight back into it, and then lose because of a silly mistake in the final moments. It happened again against New Mexico State when Aaron Jordan threw the ball away on a baseline inbounds play and New Mexico State made three points out of it.
But, this is not to complain about Illini basketball, but rather talk about one of the bright spots of the game: Leron Black
After leaving the UNLV game with an elbow injury, Leron came up big for Illinois in the second half against New Mexico State. He finished the day with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, and made all five of his free throws. He also pulled down eight boards, although his efforts were not enough to help Illinois pull out the victory.
Black was pretty quiet in the first half (with zero points), but helped the Illini fight back in the second half of the game. He had several good post moves, fadeaway jumpers and boards that helped spark an Illini comeback. Illinois trailed by 12 going into halftime, but Black’s effort and some big shots by Trent Frazier kept the game close.
What might’ve been most impressive was how he handled contact. He nailed a baseline jumper and was rewarded with an and-one call late in the second half. He also moved around the basket really well, and provided consistency for the team as they tried to mount a comeback.
It was somewhat surprising that Black had such a huge effect on the game, since he sat out against Longwood on Wednesday and was questionable going into Saturday night’s game. If Underwood can get similar production from Black in Big Ten play (and limit turnovers), it would be a really fun conference season.