CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Getting back on track feels nice, doesn’t it?
The Illini were able to fight off a hot Mississippi Valley State start to secure an 86-67 win Sunday afternoon at State Farm Center. The win snaps a four-game losing streak for Illinois (2-4) after a tough trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
“I think the important thing is we got that one over with,” said head coach Brad Underwood said. “I learned from experience two years ago that the game back from Maui is not easy.”
This game was meant to serve as a ‘tune-up’ for Underwood before the schedule got tough again with a stretch of Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and then, UNLV still to come. Illinois got a chance to practice against a zone defense, Samba Kane provided some productive minutes on the bench, and the coaching staff started to go big. The opponents came in shooting over 50 percent against the Illini, and Underwood tried to combat that today by featuring two bigs in his lineup — something he hasn’t done much this season.
Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols led the scoring for the Illini, combining for 30 points, but it was Ayo Dosunmu who did it all against one of the SWAC’s worst teams. The freshman finished with six points, nine assists, nine rebounds and zero turnovers.
“I feel like I can affect the game in different ways,” Dosumu said. “Da’Monte [Williams] was getting going early so I tried getting in lanes and kicking to him. I felt like my team was hitting a lot of shots so I was trying to get it to them.”
Illinois and Mississippi Valley State (1-6) got the scoring going from deep to start the game. In fact, the Illini were 6-of-13 behind the arc before they even attempted their first two-point field goal over eight minutes into the game.
The Delta Devils were able to keep pace, shooting almost 60 percent from the field to start. Neither team could pull away until a late field goal drought from the Delta Devils allowed Illinois to extend its lead. A 10-0 run capped off by a deep Frazier three as the first half expired gave Illinois a commanding 45-29 advantage.
“Coach Underwood let us go through some adversity early,” Dosunmu said. “But I feel like we picked it up early in the second half.”
The momentum carried over to the second half with an efficient performance from the floor. The Illini shot 59 percent from the field and 78 percent from three in the second half. And against a far less-talented team like Mississippi Valley State, those numbers were just too much to come back from.
Illinois tied a program-record with 16 three-pointers in the win.
HE SAID IT
“I feel like we’re the best offensive team in the country” — Trent Frazier
Notre Dame is the beginning of a tough four-game slate for the Illini. They will travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish (5-1) as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Tip-off is scheduled for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. CT.