After a shaky first 30 minutes, the Illini were able to pull themselves together to squeak out their first conference victory. Brad Underwood donned the orange blazer, and Illinois rocked the throwback whites for a nostalgic, circa 1989 vibe.
Let’s start off with some of the better pieces of Wednesday’s performance.
- Integral Players Stepped Up - To continue to win games in the Big Ten, the Illini will have to keep calling on guys like Trent Frazier and Leron Black to rise to the occasion. Black is averaging almost 16 points in his last five games on 67 percent shooting. Over his last 12 games, Frazier has scored in double-figures 11 times and is averaging over 16 points per game.
- We Closed it Out - This has been a major issue for this team this year. No one on the roster has had to lead at a high-major level, or really has had all that much experience. It’s a combination of the lack of veteran leadership to go along with youth and inexperience. We’ve seen this team lose games in ways that most fans didn’t even know were even possible. That being said, no matter how hard it seemed like they tried to throw it late Wednesday, they bunkered down and got the win, which leads me into my next point.
- Free Throws - After shooting just two free throws in the entire first half, the Illini were able to win it at the free throw line. Illinois didn’t make a field goal for over seven (!) minutes in the second half. How were they able to overcome this drought? You guessed it, making their free throws. They were 22-31 in the second, including 7-7 from Kipper Nichols.
- ISO: Trent Frazier Support Group - Please apply with Athletic Director, Josh Whitman. Get Trent Frazier some help. The combination of Smith-Alstork-Jordan-Williams did not come to play against the Hoosiers. They combined for eight points, seven rebounds, and just two assists in 49 minutes. Ouch. Luckily, Nichols stepped up for a half and contributed 12 points and four rebounds. However, Kipper is quite the wild card, and no fan knows what to expect from him. Te’Jon Lucas also played a quiet, yet solid game. His on-ball defense was exceptional, and he even added 11 points of his own, including a three and 4-4 from the line, two areas he struggles.
- Three-Point Shooting - The numbers weren’t the greatest from either camp. The Hoosiers shot a respectable 5-11 in the first half, but were 0-4 in the second 20 minutes. The Illini were 4-15 from deep to put them at just 27 percent.
- Front-court Foul Trouble - One of the more concerning factors in the matchup was whether or not Illinois would be able to finish with two big men on the floor. Kipper Nichols fouled out in the final minute, Leron Black didn’t play for a period in the second half because of his foul situation - he finished with four. And Greg Eboigbodin had three fouls in just his fourteen minutes of play. A lineup with Michael FInke and four guards is not one I want to see.
Just one from me, but it’s going to be an issue for the rest of conference play.
- Guarding Talented Bigs - There was no stopping Juwan Morgan, rather hoping to contain him. Although, that didn’t really happen either. He finished with 28 points (12-14 from the field), eight rebounds, and three assists. If he shoots just 75 percent from the free throw line, the Illini lose that game. This team lacks a physical post presence, and it killed them like many other conference losses. We’re coming for you, Purdue.