The Illinois Fighting Illini seem to enjoy making non-conference games at home closely contested.
Illinois edged out Grand Canyon, 62-58, on Saturday in a game mostly controlled by Dan Majerle’s Antelopes.
With roughly under 45 seconds to go, Illinois freshman guard Trent Frazier held the ball at the top of the key. He was just coming off a huge shot himself from the left wing a couple possessions ago, which gave Illinois a 57-54 lead.
Frazier dribbles left into the ball screen, pulls it back and starts to drive in the other direction, drawing in the defense at the same time.
Freshman guard Da’Monte Williams was left wide open at the top of the key and, after a quick pass from Frazier, he buried the dagger three to give the Illini the 60-54 advantage.
Those three points were the first of the game for Williams.
“Stepping up to knock it down was big for me,” Williams said.
Senior guard Mark Alstork iced the game with two makes from the charity stripe.
Frazier finished with 14 points, but junior forward Leron Black stole the show with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“There are some games you’re just really really happy to find a W, this was one,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “We won the game today because of our defense and because of our rebounding,”
Despite the competition not being a major conference opponent, the Illini’s game against the Antelopes brought a couple of big names to the State Farm Center.
Potential 2019 Illini big man Francis Okoro was at the game for his official visit. Illini great Jerry Colangelo — a Grand Canyon sponsor — was also in attendance.
The Illini did not really give those two something to marvel at during the first half, sporting a very sloppy start with seven turnovers by the 6:50 mark.
Luckily for Brad Underwood’s team, Black was not having any of it, dominating the paint early on both ends with 10 points and six rebounds and keeping the Illini within striking distance.
“Leron carried us the first half, great double-double,” Underwood said. “He might be playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten from an offensive standpoint.”
The Antelopes went on an 11-1 run late in the first half, giving them a 28-24 lead with under two minutes to go.
Illinois couldn’t get into a functioning offense in the half court and continued to plague itself with 11 turnovers.
The half did not close strongly for Illinois either. A late tip-in from Allesandro Lever gave the Antelopes a 32-27 lead heading into the break. Lever had 13 points and three rebounds at the half.
Black was the only positive in the first frame for Illinois with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while he also added seven rebounds. The rest of his team was 6-of-22 from the field.
“If it wasn’t for (Black), I don’t know if we would’ve been in the game,” Frazier said.
Going into the second half, the Illini came out much more aggressive offensively to tie it right away at 32, however, they could not string together a series of stops defensively, which allowed the Antelopes to have a 44-41 lead under 14 minutes to go.
One of these failed stops included an “Oh my go—” putback dunk from Oscar Frayer, which got the “Ohs” from the fans here at the State Farm Center.
However, the ‘human microwave’ — also known as Trent Frazier — scored four straight points to tie the game at 47 with 9:37 remaining.
Frazier was not done there. A quick baseline drive and kick from Frazier to Finke led to a corner three and a 54-51 Illini lead.
And when his team needed him most with the shot clock dwindling down, Frazier pulls up from the left wing and buries the clutch three to give Illinois a 57-54 advantage with under two minutes to go.
“I’ve built a lot confidence in taking those big time shots,” Frazier said. “I wasn’t really pressured at that moment, just broke my guy down and took the shot.”
Williams proceeded to hit his big shot, and the Illini improved to 10-5 on the season. They will be heading north to square off with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis on Wednesday as Illinois resumes its Big Ten schedule.
“This is going to be the rest of the season,” Black said. “Conference play is tough. There aren’t going to be too many blowouts in conference play.”
Illinois dropped its first two Big Ten games to Northwestern and Maryland in early December.