For just the second time in about a month, the Illini jumped out to a great start. The last time Illinois came out ready to play, they brought home their fifth straight Braggin’ Rights trophy.
They’ve dropped nine of their last 10 in Ann Arbor and were looking to sneak out with the win against a top-tier Big Ten foe. That was not to be the case, however, as a poor second half allowed the Wolverines to secure their third conference victory of the season.
The duo of Kipper Nichols and Greg Eboigbodin were the only Illini in double figures as they paced the team with 17 and 10 points, respectively. Yes, you read that right. This is not something to become accustomed to though. Coach Underwood said Leron Black has been battling the flu post-game, and Trent Frazier had one of his worst outings in a while.
Brad Underwood’s system is still very new to these guys, and it’s obvious to see on the court. Whether it be Mark Smith hesitating and missing a cutter on the offensive end, or being overly aggressive on the defensive end and getting back cut or leaving the rim unprotected, defensive struggles continue.
BUT, the Illini did force Michigan into a season-high 15 turnovers.
Their Head Coach John Beilein had good things to say about this Illinois team after the game:
Beilein knows, y’all can keep sleeping though pic.twitter.com/rm2UJEaDFf— Illini Barstool (@BarstoolILL) January 6, 2018
Trent Frazier, Mark Smith and Da’Monte Williams combined for 13 of the team’s 17 turnovers. If you add Greg Eboigbodin to the list, they had all but three of the team’s total turnovers. Smith’s six and Frazier’s five were both their most all season.
It’s safe to say, the Illini need the freshmen to limit these mistakes to have success in conference play.
Without Mark Smith’s 2-2 from the three-point line, the Illini were just 1-12. Without a strong post presence, teams need to be able to hit the outside shot. This frees up driving lines for guys like Trent Frazier and Mark Smith to get to the hoop. Without a deep threat, or just poor shooting from long range, the Illini don’t really have anything else to turn to offensively.
Career Night for Ebo
Before the season, we talked about Eboigbodin and what he needs to do to have a productive first year as an Illini: come in and provide solid minutes, while letting Black/Finke get a breather on the bench. The past two games, he’s stepped in and exceeded expectations. He had a career-high 10 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting, a career-high six rebounds, a career-high 16 minutes and tied a career-high with two blocks.
Balanced Attack for the Wolverines
As an opposing coach, one of the worst things to see in a box score is a team with multiple guys in double-digits. Six guys scored in double figures for the Wolverines yesterday, with Wagner’s 14 leading the way. It’s much more difficult to game plan for a team with so many offensive threats versus a team with maybe one or two.
Underwood’s team did do a great job of getting Matthews in foul trouble early, which allowed them to establish that first half lead. His 10 points were just the fourth fewest all season.