The Illini escaped 2017 with a win, although it was far from pretty. Illinois welcomed Grand Canyon University and Head Coach Dan Majerle into Champaign, and the Antelopes were just a possession or two away from stealing one and heading back to Phoenix. But it was not to be as the Illini close out the year and head into conference play with a 10-5 record.
- Leron Black: We’ll start with the obvious. The junior forward has been huge for the Illini ever since his return from injury. He ended the first half with 13 of Illinois’ 27 points and seven rebounds. He finished with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
- Defense: It wasn’t beautiful, but it didn’t qualify as bad either. The high-intensity, in your face ball pressure and clogging passing lanes has become the identity of this Illinois team. We’re never sure how the offense is going to come out and play, but we can expect that they won’t let up on the defensive end. The Illini forced 14 turnovers and let their opponents shoot just 35.9 percent from the field and 15 percent from deep.
- Trent Frazier: Frazier has been the spark on this team through the first half of the season. When the Illini need to make something happen, it seems to be Trent who ends up with the ball in his hands. He hit a few big shots in the second half, and his two assists were instrumental in the win as well. He found Michael Finke wide open in the corner for three and then hit Da’Monte Williams at the top of the key for another triple to seal the win for Illinois.
- It was a Win: Like I said, this was far from a “pretty” game, but a win is a win and it shows up the same on the schedule. This is the second game in a row that the Illini have found a way to finish the game and come out on top. This is something that this team failed to do in all five of their losses. Underwood said in his postgame press conference that he was “ecstatic” because this might not be a game the team wins a couple weeks ago.
- First Half: This team has been Jekyll and Hyde all season long, especially on the offensive end. They have failed to put together two solid halves in a game this year, and this was the case last night as well. With the exception of Leron Black, the Illini came out fairly flat in the first half ending with zero field goals in the last 6:23 and 0-6 from the three-point line.
- Trent Frazier: It was a tale of two halves for the freshman as well. He ended the first half with just five points on 2-6 shooting, 1-3 from the free throw line, no assists and two turnovers.
- Smith, Nichols, and Jordan: The trio have not contributed much lately for the Illini. They combined for just 4-14 from the field (1-6 from three) and 10 points. Nichols has seen his minutes decline over the last three outings, and Smith’s 11 minutes were his second fewest this year.
- Turnovers: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Last night’s 20 turnovers were the second-most this season. That being said, the Antelopes played great on the defensive end and hounded the Illini guards all night. The Illinois backcourt committed 17 of those 20 turnovers which is unacceptable. Lucas led with five, Jordan was second with four, and Alstork and Frazier both chipped in three. If the Illini get exploited like that come conference play, it could be a long, long second half of the season.
- Te’Jon Lucas: Lucas has been inconsistent all year long, and after last night, it’s time for Trent Frazier to get his first crack in the starting lineup. Lucas played just 15 minutes compared to Frazier’s 25, and finished with just two points, three rebounds, one assist, and five turnovers.
The Illini travel to The Barn to take on the Gophers Wednesday night at 8.