Phew, they did it. The Illini (kind of) closed out a game and tossed the monkey off their back. It is with a full heart and a laptop covered in happy tears that I type up this piece. It certainly wasn’t pretty, Underwood even referenced this in his postgame press conference, but Illinois has captured their first conference win of the season. They will look to pick up their second consecutive win Tuesday night when they welcome Rutgers to the State Farm Center. But first, let’s take a look at some of the numbers that stood out from last night’s game.
This is where the game was won, maybe lost. The Hoosiers were 6-15 from the charity stripe at one point in the first half, and unfortunately for them, things never really got better. Indiana finished just 16-29 from the line, and it cost them. On the other hand, Trent Frazier split a pair on the only free throws that the Illini took in the first half. However, they finished 23-32 for 72 percent. Their 22 made free throws were the most in a half this season.
Frazier & Black.
The duo did it all for the Illini tonight. They each scored 19 points, Leron led the team in rebounds with six, Trent led the team with three assists, and they played 32 and 35 minutes, respectively. They combined for 14-27 shooting from the floor (52 percent), and Trent scored 13 consecutive Illinois points for 4:30 in the first half. Lucky for us, we get to bring these guys back again next year!
Lack of Playing Time for Other Freshmen
Mark Smith has been a staple in the Underwood starting lineup thus far, but he saw just four minutes the entire game after picking up a pair of early fouls. Staying out of foul trouble has been a problem for Smith, and it’s hard to keep him on the floor, maturing, when he digs himself in an early hole. Da’Monte Williams saw seven minutes in the first half, but didn’t touch the floor in the second half either. Ebo got just five minutes of playing time in the second half after picking up his third foul. The trio combined for just four points, one rebound, and five fouls in their combined 25 minutes.
Kipper to the Rescue
The first half was a rather dismal performance after what we got from Kipper, Monday night. Entering the second half, he had just one rebound and one assist to his name. Whatever Underwood said at half time worked. Nichols came out and scored 12, including a perfect 7-7 from the line. It was just enough push for the Illini to get over the hump and secure their first victory.
Forcing the Issue
The Illini entered the game forcing 18.2 turnovers per game, and they hit that number right on the head. It’s a credit to Underwood’s uptempo style of ball, and he’s trying to run it with guys that aren’t his, or necessarily fit this system. It’s a high-risk/high-reward type of play, and it worked tonight. Ideally, this team is equipped with quick guards that can pressure the ball and get in passing lanes. Complementing them would be a couple of athletic rim-protectors to help defend backdoor cuts, or guards getting beat off the dribble. They forced the Hoosiers into 11 second half turnovers, and rode that horse into the Big Ten Conference victory sunset.