The Fighting Illini hung on by the skin of their teeth to win their final non-conference game of the season 62-58 over the Grand Canyon Antelopes. This was the lowest scoring game of the season for Illinois, but thanks to the defense and rebounding, the Illini were able to pull this one off to finish off non-conference play with at a 10-3 mark.
Here are some top takeaways from the final Illinois basketball game of the calendar year.
1. Leron Black has cemented himself as Illinois’ best offensive threat
Leron Black scored twenty points for the second straight game. In the first half, Black scored thirteen of the twenty-seven points for Illinois. Without his first half scoring, Illinois would have lost this game.
Black is leading Illinois with 14.8 points per game after he only averaged 8.1 points per game his junior season. Black has even added the three point shot to his game as he is shooting .467 from deep. His ability to make contested midrange turnaround shots over taller defenders have bailed Illinois out of many bad offensive possessions.
Black has taken over the main scoring load and the leadership role for the young Fighting Illini. It would be too much of a stretch to say that it is “his” team, but it’s not far off. Illinois needs Black to continue to score if they want to be a threat in Big Ten play.
2. Illinois guards — minus Trent Frazier — mightily struggled
Trent Frazier was fanatic down the stretch for the Illini. He made a few circus layups and a huge three to help Illinois take, and keep the lead in the second half. Frazier finished the game with fourteen points and a couple of rebounds and assists.
As for the rest of the guards — Aaron Jordan, Mark Smith, Te’Jon Lucas, Mark Alstork, and Da’Monte Williams — it was a different story. These five combined for only fourteen points with eight makes on twenty-two shots. They also combined for fourteen of the twenty turnovers for Illinois.
Outside of Trent Frazier, Illinois’ guard play was dreadful, and several players have had issues all season long. This is a very concerning trend for a team that is meant to be built upon solid guard play.
3. Illinois defended well again, but will it last?
The defense came up big against Grand Canyon. After holding Mizzou to nineteen percent shooting from three point range and thirty-eight percent overall, the Illini held the Antelopes to fifteen percent shooting from deep and thirty-six percent overall.
The defense have been inconsistent to say the least in the start of the Brad Underwood era, with the team struggling with rim protection and foul issues. However, Illinois has been able to overcome their size disadvantage and inconsistency to have two great defensive games and pick up two good wins.
We will have to wait and see if this continues going into 2018, but these last two game should give Illinois fans some confidence that the defensive issues may be behind this team.
Now if the team could only start scoring again.