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Iowa: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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There was a lot of ugly.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Fighting Illini did it again. They found a new and creative way to break the hearts of fans. Illinois led by 20 in the first half and led by 13 at halftime. The offense was firing on all cylinders, but Iowa was able to stay in the game by making its free throws throughout the first half.

Illinois would quickly let Iowa back in the game, and the Illini would relinquish the lead late in the second half. Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes would hold on in overtime to complete their second-largest comeback victory on the road in program history.

The Good

Trent Frazier:

Whatever “it” is, this kid has it. Frazier played 40 of the 45 minutes as Te’Jon Lucas sat out for a violation of team rules. Frazier shot 10-of-20 from the field, including an astounding 7-of-11 from three-point range. Frazier’s three-point shooting sparked Illinois early on and was the fuel for the Illini comeback late in the second half. It was Frazier who hit a buzzer-beater three at the end of regulation to give the Illini a chance at redemption in overtime.

He is ridiculous. Frazier is living up to hype of a dynamic scoring lead guard, and he isn’t going to give up that starting point guard spot any time soon.

Three-Point Shooting:

This is mostly due to Trent Frazier and his seven makes from distance. The Illini shot 14-of-30 from three, and it was one of one of the Illini’s best shooting nights of the season. Aaron Jordan made four three-pointers to break out of a shooting slump.

It’s incredibly difficult to make 14 three-pointers and lose, especially at home. However, this is still a positive development for Illinois. The Illini have struggled to make jump shots, and in order for the younger players and the offensive unit as a whole to continue to develop, the Illini need to start seeing improvement from beyond the arc.

Leron Black

Learn Black fouled out in only 18 minutes on Thursday night. In those 18 minutes, Black scored 18 points on 8-of-12 from the field. Black has become a polished offensive player. He is nearly automatic from 12 feet and in, and he has developed a jumper that opponents have to respect.

Black kept the Illini afloat early in the second half, when he scored most of his points. If Black could have stayed on the floor for even 5 more minutes on Thursday, the Illini may have been able to hold on for the victory.

The Bad

The Second Half Start:

We only had one request at halftime.

Iowa would start the half on a 9-0 run. The huge lead that Illinois had built in the first half was almost completely washed away by the under-16 media timeout. Underwood mentioned there was a lack of a killer instinct coming out of the locker room for the second half, and it cost the Illini.

The Illini have started at least one half completely flat in each of the last three games, and each stretch has proven fatal.

Rebounding

Iowa outrebounded Illinois 45-26 on Thursday night.

We knew Illinois was at a severe disadvantage going up against the Hawkeyes monstrous front line, but Iowa’s offensive rebounding in the second half would prove costly. Every time Illinois was able to get a stop, it seemed Iowa would come away with the rebound.

This wasn’t a huge surprise, but it certainly was painful to watch down the stretch.

The Marks

Alstork and Smith combined for five points, six assists, three rebounds and four turnovers. Mark Alstork, the Illini’s best on-ball defender, also was the first to foul out. The margin for error for this team is very small, and they can't afford empty minutes from key players, but that’s what they’ve been getting from the Marks on the offensive end.

Alstork has been Illinois’ best defender, but some poor decision making led him into foul trouble and an early exit on Thursday night. The Illini need Alstork to play smarter on defense because they need him on the court in crunch time.

The Ugly

Foul Trouble

The Illini racked up 31 fouls and sent Iowa to the free throw line 40 times. Iowa would shoot 33-of-40 from the free throw line, and its free-throw shooting was a large reason why they were able to hang around when Illinois was building their first half lead.

Illinois also had four different players foul out, including three starters. Alstork, Black, Williams and Nichols all collected five fouls on Thursday night. By the time the game reached overtime, the Illini hardly had any bodies left.

The Hawkeyes’ size was going to make it difficult for Illinois to stay out of foul trouble, but with Lucas out and multiple players battling the flu, Illinois failed to make adjustments to make sure its best players would be able to play in crunch time.

Michael Finke

Finke has been put in a really tough spot this year. He is being asked to check Big Ten centers and that is not what he is built to do. Garza, Cook and Pemsl was simply too much for him to hand on Thursday. The most disappointing part has been he hasn’t found other ways to make a positive impact on the game.

Many thought Finke would thrive in Underwood’s offense by being able to make plays out of the pinch post and knocking down threes. He hasn’t been able to do either on a consistent basis so far this year.

Greg Eboigbodin played more against Iowa on Thursday night and outscored Michael Finke. Hopefully, Finke can get back on track and knock down a few shots in the upcoming games because Illinois needs him to play at a much higher level to win in the Big Ten.

The Heartbreak

Most fans had come to the realization sometime earlier in the year that this was not going to be a special Illini team and that the focus was on the future. We assumed the heartbreak was over, but the Illini find a way.

Blowing the huge lead was heartbreaking enough, but then for a glimmer of hope to be restored after Frazier’s buzzer beater, only to be squashed in overtime, was cruel and unusual punishment.

This was an ugly one. Just about as ugly as they come. These have been extremely hard times to be an Illini fan. We are not Illini fans because it is easy, but because it is hard. These freshmen will grow, and this culture will change, and then maybe, just maybe, we can laugh about this one.

But for now, on to Nebraska.