Another slow start from the Illinois Fighting Illini caused them to fall 77-66 to the Minnesota Gophers Wednesday night in Minnesota.
The Illini got their first taste of real size against the Gophers, as they got dominated right away in the paint. Illinois was out-rebounded 18-to-7 while getting blocked on the other end of the court four times only seven minutes into the game.
This disadvantage along with starting out 1-of-19 from the field, allowed Minnesota to jump out to a 17-2 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
After signs of some sort of offense started to form, the Illini saw the deficit increase to 19 after the Gophers went on a 7-0 run to give themselves a 25-6 lead. The issue became about getting consecutive stops on the defensive end.
Foul trouble soon became a problem as Black, Smith and Frazier all picked up two fouls early, causing them to miss important time in the first half.
Underwood made an important adjustment midway through the half by switching from man to zone defense. This change slowed down the game for Illinois and forced Minnesota out onto the three-point line where it shot 3-of-15 in the half.
This improved defense led to an improved offense, which brought the halftime deficit to only 13 points.
Freshman forward Greg Eboigbodin had the best half of basketball in his young career, scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and collecting three rebounds off the bench.
The rest of his team was not shooting very well.
Take away Eboigbodin’s shots, and the Illini were 8-of-33 from the field and also shot 1-of-13 from the three-point line.
After a very rough first half, Underwood had to be happy only trailing 39-26 at halftime.
Starting out the second, Illinois got off to a much better start, shooting 5-of-9 from the field. But, Minnesota starting six-for-six from the field did not allow Illinois to get any idea of going on a run.
The Gophers cooled off for awhile, going on a three-minute scoring drought. Yet the Illini were only able to cut the lead down to nine during this time, as missed shots and turnovers did not allow them to fully capitalize on the cold Gophers.
Illinois started to string together consecutive defensive stops soon after, which allowed it to put together a 13-2 run that had them trailing only 55-51 at the midpoint of the second half.
Frazier and Williams were huge during this spurt, as a corner three from Frazier made it a four-point game.
Three consecutive and costly fouls by the Illini gave the Gophers free points at the charity stripe and allowed them to pull the lead back out to nine points.
A three-pointer from Black, however, made it a 65-60 game with under four minutes to go.
Mason nailed a heartbreaking deep ball the following possession with the shot clock winding down and started what quickly became a 9-1 run.
Mason finished with 17 points and six assists while Jordan Murphy also added 17 points and 17 rebounds.
Amir Coffey added 16 points and Reggie Lynch contributed a double-double of his own with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Frazier and Black were the only players that got into double-digits scoring wise, notching 12 and 14 points apiece.
Illinois outscored the Minnesota 41-38 in the second half, but starting out 1-of-19 from the field proved impossible to climb out of.
Next stop will be Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the Illini will be looking for their first win in conference play against the Michigan Wolverines, Saturday, Jan. 6.