Illinois followed up its first conference win of the season over Indiana with what may have been its overall best single game performance this season with a 91-60 win over Rutgers at home.
Illinois jumped out to a big first half lead thanks to Trent Frazier. Frazier scored 15 first-half points, all of which came from three-point shots.
“It’s my teammates, they continue to look for me down the stretch when I’m hot,” Frazier said. “Coach just telling me to shoot the ball when I make shots, so I just keep doing that.”
Illinois held a 41-22 advantage halfway through the game, but unlike in other contest where the Illini squandered a lead, the team was able to continue their strong play in the second half.
Kipper Nichols scored 12 points in the second half in his first start of the season, and led the game in total points with 19. All five starters — Frazier, Nichols, Mark Alstork, Leron Black, Michael Finke — had double-digit scoring efforts.
On the other side of the ball, Illinois forced Rutgers into 25 turnovers. The Knights went almost 10 minutes in the first half without converting a field goal. It was a total ass-kicking effort for the Illini for a full 40 minutes, a truly rare site in 2017-18.
Illinois did all this in front of Fighting Illini legend Deron Williams. Williams spoke to the team in practice earlier in the week.
“I talked to the guys a lot about (culture change),” Williams said. “The coaches can only do so much, say so much, it’s got to be on you guys. You guys got to want to change, you guys got to want to win. I talked to them a little about what made us successful, like I said, our unselfishness and all we really wanted to do was win.”
Williams wasn’t very supportive of the past coaching regime and athletic director. Getting key players like Deron Williams back into the program in anyway is a huge positive for the team moving forward.
This was also the game we were introduced to this Brad Underwood sports coat. I still don’t know if I like it or hate it.
A big win over a team like Rutgers at home used to be a thing taking for granted by Illini fans. But in yet another rebuilding period, a game can no longer be counted on.
It’s nice to kick someone’s ass again, even if only for one game.