After a 1-6 stretch, the Illini were looking for something — anything — to get them back in the win column in Big Ten play. A road trip to Piscataway, New Jersey, to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights was just what the doctor had ordered.
With some lackluster play from its starters, Illinois found what it needed in its bench from Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan. Those two combined for 34 points off the bench and outscored every starter in what would be a tougher matchup than anticipated from fans.
Aaron Jordan was asked after the game if they had found some motivation for this matchup in their desire to stay out of last place in the Big Ten.
“That was definitely motivation coming in to this game.”
This was motivation simply for the fact that in the past twenty years the Illini had only finished 10th or worse twice, the last time in 2016 under former head coach John Groce.
For the game, Leron Black did Leron Black things, scoring 14 points with four rebounds and one assist. Trent Frazier struggled from the field, shooting 3-of-10 (3-of-8 from three) with four assists. Possibly the most undervalued player of the game was Da’Monte Williams, who in limited time had three points and a game-high eight rebounds, with one being on the offensive side of the court.
For Rutgers, they leaned heavily on their starters. The Rutgers bench combined for five points and eight rebounds. Corey Sanders led the way for Rutgers with six boards, four assists, and 18 points while Eugene Omoruyi added 14 points.
As was mentioned in the last article, Illinois seems to have had Rutgers’ number this season. When you are rebuilding and trying to instill a winning culture like Brad Underwood is doing, no win can be taken for granted.
Hopefully next season we fans can talk about wins over ranked teams and wins over teams that are better than us. For now, any wins will do.