Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Illini failed to close out a tight game. Of their now six losses in conference play, three of those came in overtime. They cut the Minnesota lead to four in the second half, and they led in their losses to Michigan and Nebraska. This isn’t a team that’s getting blown out of the water, but one that simply hasn’t found that ability to finish. It is the combination of a lack of leadership and veteran experience, and freshman getting substantial minutes. The point is, this group is coming up with some very impressive ways to lose a ballgame.
Here are some marks for a couple Illini.
Michael Finke: A-
A double-double warrants an “A” for any Illini. It wasn’t a game that blew you out of the water, or made you jump out of your seat, but it was definitely a solid performance. He hit what was the go-ahead four-point play with just eight seconds left to go along with his ten rebounds, five of which were offensive, and just one turnover in 24 minutes. It was nice to see Finke bust out of his slump. The Illini could use a couple more of these games from the junior to get in the conference win column.
Trent Frazier: A-
Trent also earns an “A-” from me because of his stellar play as of late. With Te’Jon Lucas out, he’s had to play big boy minutes - 76 combined in the last two games. Frazier had 19 points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, three steals, and five assists, none bigger than his pass to Finke to take the lead late. He’s making an early case for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. It’s a promising start to what is hopefully a spectacular career.
Leron Black: C+
Monday night was a pretty average job for Black. He had 13 on 6-8 shooting, and pulled down eight rebounds, but he also committed a game-high five turnovers. The one that sticks out the most though, is he travel under the basket down the stretch. This game was decided by just one possession, and it’s mistakes like that from older guys that are demoralizing.
Da’Monte Williams: C-
Again, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Da’Monte Williams pulled down a big rebound and threw it out of bounds in crunch time. It was one of just two turnovers for the freshman, but it’s one of those silly mistakes that can be done away with, freshman or not.
Kipper Nichols: D
Nichols might just be the most frustrating and inconsistent player on this team, and that is saying something. He is listed as 6-foot-6, 225 pounds on the Fighting Illini website, and he is arguably one of the most physically gifted players on the team, yet he has been flaky all season. After a stretch of three games where he didn’t score more than two points each contest, he dropped 17 and 13 in back-to-back games before scoring just five points and grabbing three rebounds at Nebraska.
Aaron Jordan: D-
The complement to Nichols’ inconsistency is Jordan’s own. Just one assist and two fouls with 0-3 shooting in Jordan’s 15 minutes on the floor after 18 points and four assists against Iowa last Wednesday. Will he go off for 20-plus? Will he throw up a goose egg?
Will the Illini win a conference game? Will they come up with a new way to surprise the fans and blow a lead? The answer to that question is probably yes. Tune in again Friday against Wisconsin at 8 p.m. to find out!