Well, it happened again.
Illinois fell down big early in a game — the Gophers led 17-2 at the 12:07 mark of the first half — and had to claw their way back in it, only to run out of momentum late and lose.
Illinois’ trend of awful starts is dumbfounding, and it’s been the story of far too many games for the 2017-18 Fighting Illini.
Here are some key takeaways from Illinois’ third Big Ten loss.
1. Minnesota’s frontline domination
Both Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy had double-doubles to help guide Minnesota to victory. These big men were too much for Illinois to handle on both ends of the court.
Murphy pulled in 17 rebounds to go with his 17 points, while Lynch had seven — seven! — blocks. This was a matchup that Illinois, with their size, was always going to lose. It was clear that Minnesota was able to play to their main strength on their way to a win.
2. Te’Jon Lucas makes little impact once again
Despite starting the game, Lucas only played eleven uninspiring minutes against the Gophers. He finished the night with just two points, two rebounds, and no assist.
In his last three games, all of which he has started, Lucas has failed to play twenty minutes and has provided little on either end of the floor. Brad Underwood likes having Trent Frazier come off the bench to provide a spark, but with how this team starts poorly in games, it’s time for a switch in the starting lineup.
3. Hey! Spicy G played well!
Spicy G’s scoville level is slowly rising.
Fan favorite Greg Eboigodin had his best game for the Illini. He played fifteen solid minutes, scoring nine points on 4-5 shooting. He only had nine total points for the season going into the game.
Ebo is a long term project for Illinois. He can’t be counted on to score like this, but with the lack of depth in the front court, having him to be able to provide solid minutes is a huge plus.
4. Minnesota won by eleven, and won the free throw battle by twelve.
Minnesota went to the line thirty-four times, making twenty-two shots compared to only ten points on fourteen trips for Illinois.
A promising trend early in the season was the ability of this new aggressive style from the Illini to draw fouls and trips to the line for easy points. Illinois wasn’t going to continue to draw as many fouls as competition stepped up, but it is concerning to see this advantage start to disappear.
Illinois has only won one game this season — Grand Canyon — where they lost the battle at the free throw line. In wins, this season, Illinois is averaging 26.9 trips to the free throw line with 18.9 points. In losses, those numbers are 16.1 and 12.5 respectively.
With this downward trend in free throws and Illinois poor shooting as of late, it may be tough for Illinois to generate points in Big Ten play outside of Leron Black and Trent Frazier’s individual play.