CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It was a loss, but State Farm Center hasn’t felt like that in a while.
In a game without its best player, Illinois dropped its Gavitt Games matchup in Champaign on Tuesday night against Georgetown, 88-80.
Without sophomore guard Trent Frazier (concussion), the Illini (1-1) had to rely on newcomers Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz to lead the charge. The trio combined for 50 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. When the offense needed a bucket, it was one of those three to step up for the team — especially in the second half.
In Frazier’s absence — which Illinois head coach Brad Underwood did not put a timetable on after the game, saying “We’re all mercy of that base test.” — and in front of packed house, Dosunmu shined, scoring 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-of-4 from three), leading the five Illini (Kipper Nichols, Feliz, Da’Monte Williams and Bezhanishvili) who scored in double-digits.
“I’m just upset with myself because I feel like the fans gave it their all cheering,” Dosunmu said, “and I couldn’t give them the ‘W.”
But the quintet couldn’t do enough. Georgetown (3-0) adjusted to Brad Underwood’s three-quarter court 1-2-2 press and found space in Illinois’ defense. After four early turnovers, Patrick Ewing’s squad adjusted and was able to find easy offense in the form of backdoor cuts and easy layups.
The Illini raced out to the lead behind Dosunmu’s hot start. The Chicago native showed an impressive array of flashy finishes and even knocked down his only attempt from behind the arc in the first half, giving him nine points through the first 20 minutes.
But a cold stretch of almost five minutes allowed Georgetown to make things competitive. Despite 10 team turnovers, the Hoyas, who finished with 22 turnovers, were able to climb out to a six-point lead shortly before the break.
Bezhanishvili did an outstanding job on the Hoyas’ star big man, Jessie Govan. The new fan favorite was able to hold Govan to just five points, three rebounds, and two assists before the break.
Yet, Bezhanishvili also struggled with foul trouble, finishing the game with four and having to sit long periods of the second half.
While grad transfer Adonis De La Rosa made his Illini debut, Underwood said he would like to have his freshman big man on the floor more.
“We need Giorgi on the floor because he’s our best defender,” Underwood said.
The second half was anyone’s game. It was a back-and-forth affair between the two teams, including nine lead changes and 16 ties. But in the end, it was the Hoyas who proved to be just enough to escape with the win.
“This was a group of [Illinois] guys that was pissed off,” Underwood said.
TWEET OF THE GAME
OH MY @AyoDos_11 is smooth as butter. #Illini and Hoyas going back-and-forth. pic.twitter.com/B4nNaBazmA— Illini Basketball (@IlliniMBB) November 14, 2018
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
In a close game with just four minutes remaining, Illinois’ Kipper Nichols failed to hustle out a loose ball that was poked away from him, resulting in a Mac McClung highlight reel slam. The play gave Georgetown a lead that they wouldn’t give up.
On Nichols’ miscues and missed shots late in the game, Underwood said: “Next game. Next game. That’s all I know to tell him. It’s all about effort. When McClung sprinted to it, he got it. We didn’t.”
HE SAID IT
“A young man came in here and took blame for a loss two games into his career. Are you kidding me?” - Underwood, on Dosunmu’s maturity.
Things don’t get any easier for the Illini. They have the rest of the week off before they travel to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
Illinois will take on the No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs (2-0) in their first matchup of the tournament Monday night at 10:30 p.m. CT.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s an elite event,” Underwood said. “You think I’m afraid of going to play anybody with this group?”