As the calendar nears January and the return of Big Ten play, the Illinois Fighting Illini got a chance to get a much-needed win Saturday against a team that — for lack of a better term — had immense travel issues on its trek to Champaign.
Trip to @IlliniMBB Update @CBSSportsCBB @TheAthleticCBB @espn @Delta— ETSU Mens Basketball (@ETSU_MBB) December 15, 2018
3:15p ✈️➡️Bloomington, IL delayed
4p ✈️➡️BMI delayed
5p ✈️➡️BMI ❌
9:35p ❌flat tire
11:23pm Still @ MDW
The last time Illinois faced a team that had travel issues came in the Big Ten Tournament. We all remember that game and there is no need to reopen old wounds.
As for the aforementioned Illinois vs. East Tennessee State game, the crowd saw an Illinois team get to a huge lead in the first half, step off the gas a bit in the second half, and walk away with a 73-55 victory. So how does this team grade out following a big win in Champaign?
Trent Frazier: A
Trent did all that was asked of him Saturday. Shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 6-9 from behind the arc, Frazier finished with a solid stat line: 25 points, five assists, three steals, and only four turnovers in 33 minutes. Not a bad way to rebound after an eight-point performance against UNLV.
Frazier has been the leader of this team all season long, as well as a good portion of last season, and has been a bit of an igniter for the Illini. Big things are in store for him this season, and this game, even though it came against a mid-major team, should be one he looks back on and smiles.
Kipper Nichols: B+
Kip has been improving as the season has progressed and showed solid output against ETSU. His 14 points is his second-most on the season, but coming in 29 minutes on 6-of-13 shooting leaves a bit to be desired. On the bright side, Nichols did pull down nine rebounds, second-most on the team.
With a bevy of good passing on the afternoon, Kipper is still showing his value to this team and will continue to be an important part of Underwood’s rotation.
Aaron Jordan: C-
I have immense respect for Aaron Jordan. I hesitate to grade him this low because he continues to be one of my favorite Illini. Yet when you shoot 2-of-13 from the field, it clearly wasn’t your day.
When taking at least five shots, this was Jordan’s worst game as an Illini percentage wise. Regardless of the poor shooting, Aaron pulled down a team-leading 10 boards, five on the offensive glass, five on the defensive side. Jordan helped the Illini throughout the game, even if his shot wasn’t falling.
Ayo Dosunmu: N/A
While he didn’t log a single minute, Ayo stepped up as a leader and took full responsibility for his absence. Before tip, it was announced Ayo would not be starting due to a violation of team rules.
As it turns out, Ayo was late to shoot-around Saturday morning and Underwood held him to task. Ayo was not needed, but took to Twitter following the game to take full responsibility for his actions.
Kudos, young man, for admitting a mistake and owning it.
As a leader, I understand the importance of team rules. I accept responsibility & the consequences for being late this morning. I made a mistake, and I’ll grow from it. Sorry for letting my team & #Illini fans down. It won’t happen again!— Mr WhyNotMe (@AyoDos_11) December 15, 2018
The State Farm Center Atmosphere: F- x 1,000
Look, I get it. The majority of students were on break/taking finals, we are smack in the middle of the Christmas season, guys are in crunch time to get their lady a gift, but the atmosphere at the game today rivaled that of a funeral.
En route to a halftime lead of 43-18, the State Farm Center clearly didn’t get the memo that their team was in the lead. This game featured what I can only describe as the worst environment in a game I have ever seen. Last week’s UNLV tilt wasn’t much better.
State Farm Center, then Assembly Hall, was formerly one of the toughest places to play. For years, the noise created inside threw off the best teams in the country. Now, for many games, the opposing fans can be louder than the Illini faithful.
I was at the Georgetown game. I had the audacity to stand and cheer, much to the chagrin of the blue-haired fans behind me. The State Farm Center needs a revival of excitement and a revived fanbase that can help will this team to victories. Wins will help this cause, wins will get students back in to it, wins will get the fan base interested again, but for now, the silence is deafening.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!