In arguably the Illinois Fighting Illini’s worst played game of the season, junior forwards Leron Black and Michael Finke led the Illini to a 64-57 victory over Austin Peay.
Finke’s 17 points and eight boards, and Black’s 16 points and four boards gave Illinois the advantage in the frontcourt.
A combined nine turnovers from the two, however, didn’t make their lives any easier.
“It’s something I have to work on and get cleaned up,” Black said. “I got to stop dropping my shoulder I take credit for most of them.”
Actually, a season-high 25 turnovers for Illinois didn’t help anyone rest easy throughout the contest. The Illini had four more turnovers than made field goals, sinking only 21 shots.
Illinois only had nine assists to pair with the 25 turnovers.
“Tough night offensively with nine assists,” Underwood. “You know we’re not executing very well on the offensive end when we have nine (assists). We have to figure out how to make an entry so we can just get into (the offense).”
The Governors were not much better (24 total turnovers and 24 made field goals).
Let’s talk about that first half.
After allowing the game’s first four points, the Illini responded with a promising 11-2 run to take an 11-6 lead after five minutes.
This would be the only bright spot of the half.
Austin Peay countered with a run of its own, and 11 straight points allowed them to take a 17-13 lead. Illinois, meanwhile, went on a scoring drought of over five minutes, missing seven straight shots and having six turnovers.
The struggles continued for the Illini as they hit only one of their last 17 shots in the first half. Illinois scored only two points during a nine-minute stretch in the half.
“I thought we came out, not necessarily flat, but not with as much energy,” Finke said. “That’s something we really got to execute better with at the beginnings of games moving forward.”
Thankfully for Illinois, Austin Peay could not capitalize off the Illini drought due to 10 first-half turnovers. Missing five of their 10 free throws didn’t help the Governors’ cause, either.
A small run from the Illini allowed them to climb back to only a two-point deficit at half, but it still was not pretty up to that point.
Illinois shot 32.3 percent from the floor (10-of-31), 12.5 percent from three (1-of-8) and committed 15 first half turnovers.
“There was a passiveness tonight,” Underwood said.
The only Illini that had a solid first half was redshirt-sophomore Kipper Nichols, who had seven points (2-of-3 shooting) and six rebounds at the midpoint of the game.
It wasn’t much prettier from the Governor’s, also, as they had more turnovers than field goals in the first half (11 made shots and 12 turnovers).
The second half... was better???
Instead of scuffling with trash cans, Underwood was just trying to help his team out during halftime Wednesday night.
“I was trying to help them get into some sort of offensive rhythm,” Underwood said.
Underwood also wanted to try and get Black more touches so he can be more established in the game.
With that said, Black turned the ball over during Illinois’ first second-half possession — fitting for how the previous 20 minutes were played.
Illinois (7-3) grabbed the lead for a short bit thanks to a jumper from Black at the 15:10 mark, but Austin Peay managed to take it right back and stay ahead for a majority of the half.
Junior forward Leron Black started to get going, however, and his 13 points pushed the Illini within one of the Governors with 7:58 remaining in the game.
After going back and forth at each other for a short stretch, freshman guard Da’Monte Williams rattled home a three to give his team a 53-50 lead with under five minutes to go in the game.
An overall 16-7 run from Illinois — 11 of which came from the free throw line — assisted the Illini in putting away the Governors, 64-57.
Sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas scored the last seven Illini points to close out the game for his team, including a breakaway layup on the game’s final possession.
The game was a fight from start to end between the Illini and the Governors.
“That was like an old slugfest in the sandbox,” Underwood said. “There were two teams that knew each other extremely well.”
Illinois will be heading to a literal sandbox on Saturday when the Illini head to Las Vegas to square off against University of Nevada-Las Vegas.