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Fighting Illini Basketball Report Card: Grand Canyon

How the Illini graded out in their narrow win against the Antelopes.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Williams Family Clutch Gene: A+

Da’Monte Williams hit this clutch dagger with 15 seconds left in the game to seal the deal for Illinois.

And thank goodness he did. If Illinois came away empty on that possession, it may have sent Underwood’s squad down the darkest timeline. GCU would have had an opportunity to take the lead on a last second shot and send the Illini back to the Heartbreak Hotel.

Deon Thomas even slipped and called him Frank Williams on the call. His jumper even looked like Frankie’s there. Williams is Mr. Consistent and a guy Underwood can alwys count on to make the right play and the smart play.

It turns out in addition to high basketball IQ, the clutch gene also runs in the Williams family.

Leron Black: A

Black carried the rest of the sleepwalking Illini through the first half. The redshirt junior put up 13 points and 7 rebounds in the first half on his way to a 20 and 11 double-double. Black shot 8-12 from the field and has continues to be incredibly efficient on high-difficulty shots around the basket.

Black should be recognized and applauded for developing into a dominant offensive post player. His ability to make tough shots over taller defenders, combined with his tenacity on the glass, allows him to overcome being an undersized big man. Black’s consistency and development has rightfully put him in the discussion of the Big Ten’s elite froncourt players.

Trent Frazier: B-

As Underwood said in his postgame press conference, Frazier’s rough first half wasn’t terribly surprising. Frazier was coming off 22 points in a rivalry game and a Big Ten Freshman of the Week Award and struggled with turnovers and poor decision making early on.

Frazier came on in the second half with nine points on 4-6 shooting with two assists and only one turnover. Frazier continued to be the spark the Illinois offense needs when it begins to sputter. The freshman point guard has proven to be the best Illini player at getting his own shot, and is improving eat getting others involved as he assisted on two crucial three pointers to Finke and Williams late in the game.

Frazier is Illinois’ best offensive option on the perimeter, and he is the most dangerous player with the ball in his hands. The problem though is that Frazier lacks a clear understanding of the spread offense and the finer details of what Underwood wants the offense to accomplish. These are the typical battles freshmen deal with in their first year in a college system.

Frazier takes a lot of ill-advised shots, makes a lot of questionable decisions with the ball in his hands and often overdribbles, but he is the Illini’s best playmaker and scorer right now. These are the hurdles and growing pains of being a young team.

Kipper Nichols: D

Nichols only played 11 minutes on Saturday. The only scholarship rotation playing less than Nichols are raw freshman big men Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel. No one predicted that would be the case at any point this season.

The truth is that Illinois can’t afford to have Nichols on the bench that much. At some point Illinois will need Nichols to step up and contribute in the frontcourt. Nichols is one of Illinois’ best athletes and another consistent shooter from beyond-the-arc.

Underwood made comments about the team’s trust in Nichols in the postgame press conference.

These are interesting and revealing quotes from the man in charge. There is no way to exactly know the problems the staff is seeing with Nichols, but he has been quick to shoot threes and slow to moving the ball and making the right plays within the system of the offense. Underwood and the Illini will need Nichols’ scoring rebound and defense as they head into Big Ten play.

Turnovers and Te’Jon: F

Illinois committed 20 turnovers on Saturday. Our stats guys have informed us that is, in fact, too many.

Illinois’ starting point guard Te’Jon Lucas had five turnovers and only one assist in 15 minutes. Five turnovers in 15 minutes is really, really bad and, Illinois is going to lose against every single Big Ten team if Lucas ever puts up that stat line again.

Lucas was the main offender, but Aaron Jordan committed four turnovers and Alstork and Frazier each pitched in three. Illinois needs to take much better care of the ball heading into conference play.