Someone was going to come in last place.
We just all hoped it wouldn’t be the Illini.
Now Illinois returns home after an eighth-place finish in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational following a 83-74 loss to Xavier in the seventh-place game at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui on Wednesday night.
Illinois finished with more three-pointers, assists, steals and fewer turnovers than Xavier — and still lost big. Seemingly, the intangibles are there, but the gameplay was not.
Early on, a lack of fouls and a legitimate sense of rhythm made it seem like Illinois would be able to turn the corner after sluggish starts over the first two games in Maui. Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu tallied seven points in the first few minutes and a putback dunk from grad transfer big man Adonis De La Rosa gave Illinois some life.
Then, like in the quarterfinal loss to Gonzaga, Trent Frazier took over. Frazier, who finished with 29 points against the Bulldogs, finished the half by scoring 12 of Illinois’ final 14 points, but Xavier shot 68 percent from the field for the half and took a 43-41 lead into the locker room. Frazier finished with a team-high 18 points.
But Xavier (3-3) outscored Illinois, 22-6, in the paint in the first half, as Aaron Jordan and Andres Feliz were the only Illini (1-4) with a positive +/- in the first 20 minutes. Jordan led the Illini with 13 points at the break.
The back-and-forth pace kept up in the second half, with Frazier and Dosunmu nailing a combined three three-pointers in the opening minutes of the half.
Illinois failed to convert a three-on-one break in the first and second half, struggling in transition all night. The Illini also missed on several lob attempts, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who was excellent against Gonzaga, had his worst game so for in his young career.
The Muskateers, a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, sustained a 10-point lead for the middle of the second half, trading buckets with Illinois and riding Elias Harden’s four three-pointers off the bench. Xavier finally began to pull away in the final eight minutes, sending Illinois to its fourth straight loss since a season-opening win against Evansville nearly two weeks ago.
Alan Griffin earned his first-career start after a solid outing over the first two days in Maui. Kipper Nichols was the third Illini off the bench, in Griffin’s place. Griffin struggled throughout, taking no shots, while grabbing one rebound and having one assist to five turnovers.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
ADLR DUNKS: Adonis De La Rosa was pretty much an unknown for this season, recovering from an ACL injury in March.
But a putback dunk on Dosunmu’s missed breakaway layup midway through the first half showed us a glimpse of what ADLR can potentially be in his graduate year.
And Bill Walton said it himself: “This might be the best I’ve ever seen Adonis play.”
We’ll agree, and keep hoping it gets better.
Scruggs’ Dagger: Paul Scruggs hit a bank-shot three-pointer with just under six minutes left in the game, pushing Xavier ahead 75-59. Nichols answered Scruggs with a long jumper of his own, but it was too little, too late for the scuffling Illini.
HE SAID IT
“This is the greatest seventh-place game of all time.” - Bill Walton
Illinois returns to the mainland for a non-conference matchup with Mississippi Valley State on Sunday at State Farm Center.
Until then, happy Thanksgiving! And be thankful you don’t have to listen to Bill Walton for a few days.
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