CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If you thought that was bad, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
In a poor showing of the game of basketball, the Illini were upset by Florida Atlantic in overtime, 73-71, on Saturday afternoon at the State Farm Center. And now Illinois heads back into Big Ten play, where there won’t be any gimmes.
“Give a ton of credit to Florida Atlantic,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood. “They deserved to win this game. They were better coached, better prepared, and played much harder than we did.
“I take a lot of pride in not losing games that you should win. This stings... You shouldn’t lose games at home.”
If this game was any indication of how conference play is going to go, we’re all in for a long season. The Illini (4-9) looked simply incapable of putting together any sort of halfcourt offense at times, threw the ball around the perimeter, and settled for pull-up jumpers. They were unable to get to the free throw line even once in the first half and shot just 9-of-38 from behind the arc for the game.
It’s evident that when Trent Frazier isn’t on his game, opportunities to score become few and far between. Giorgi Bezhanishvili struggled, missing several bunnies around the rim and fouling out. Illinois finished the day shooting 31 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep.
“Guarding Frazier was the key,” said FAU Head Coach Dusty May. “He’s capable of getting 25 in a half. I thought the job we did on him was as important as anything.”
The lone bright spot was Illinois’ ability to turn the ball over. The Illini forced the Owls (9-4) into 23 turnovers, including 11 in the first half. If FAU doesn’t go on a 7.5 minute scoring drought to end the half, the Illini could’ve been looking at a potential blowout.
Neither team looked like it was ready to play at tip. Dosunmu led all scorers with 12 points at the half, also chipping in four rebounds and a pair of assists. After dropping a game-high 28 points in last Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights loss against Missouri, Frazier was only able to find the bottom of the net on a fastbreak layup in the opening half. Both teams were held to less than 30 percent shooting early on, but it was Illinois that led, 26-21, at the break.
“I felt great at half,” Underwood said. “I was hoping this could become an identity game for us.”
The halftime break did nothing to cure Illinois’ struggles. If anything, it made things worse. The Owls surpassed their first-half point total in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. Meanwhile, the Illini struggled to keep their deficit to under 10 points. Dosunmu tied the game with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime, finishing the night with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
It was a back-and-forth dogfight in extra time. It seemed like for every Illinois score, there was a counter from the Owls — or Anthony Adger, the game’s leading scorer with 27 points (9-of-9 from the free throw line.) The Illini had multiple opportunities to tie or take the lead in the final seconds, but neither Dosunmu or Da’Monte Williams could get one to fall.
“At the end of the day, we have to make shots,” Dosunmu said. “It’s simple. We had shots, we just have to make them.”
TWEET OF THE GAME
MOMENTS THAT MATTER
- Senior Aaron Jordan propelled the Illini with a little run of his own. He scored eight straight to keep the game close toward the end of regulation.
- With the game on the line in the final minute, Frazier drilled a three and sank two free throws to put the Illini down one.
- Dosunmu hit the game-tying three with three seconds left for Illinois to force overtime.
With non-conference play now officially over, it’s time for Big Ten basketball... again. Illinois dropped its first two games against Nebraska and Ohio State earlier this month, and it doesn’t get much easier.
The Illini will be underdogs in almost every single league matchup this year, potentially with the exception of Rutgers. They open back up on the road at Indiana.
Illinois opens its 2019 calendar against the No. 23 Hoosiers (11-2), who are led by Juwan Morgan and future lottery pick Romeo Langford. Tip is set for 6 p.m. CT Thursday, Jan. 3.
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