CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It took six games, but Illinois got its first conference win of the year — and in blowout fashion.
With the students back for the first time in over a month, Illinois trounced Minnesota, 95-69, on Wednesday night at State Farm Center. A hot start, great defense, an emphasis on the glass, and NBA-level talent was more than enough for the Illini (5-12, 1-5 Big Ten) to find the winner’s column for the first time since Feb. 25, 2018 vs. Rutgers.
“I want to thank the Orange Krush,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood. “That was a good building tonight. Great to have the students back and play like that in front of them.”
With the help of some underclassmen, Illinois raced out to a huge early lead over the Golden Gophers (13-4, 3-3). In fact, it was the freshmen and sophomore Trent Frazier who posted the first 18 points for the Illini.
The freshman duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili outscored Minnesota by itself at the end of the first half (29-28), notching 15 and 14, respectively.
“Basketball is a game you have to play with fun,” Dosunmu said. “I try to make it fun. If we’re having fun, everything else will take care of itself.”
Minnesota is a one of the conference’s top rebounding teams, averaging 14 offensive boards a game, but the Illini did an excellent job of keeping them off the glass, especially in the first half. Illinois led the rebounding battle 20-9 after the first 20 minutes, with just four offensive rebounds for the Golden Gophers. And with a 36 percent shooting percentage from the field and 13 percent from behind-the-arc, the Illini took a 51-28 lead into the half.
“We’ve been all over [Bezhanishvili] about rebounding,” Underwood said. “You’ve got the fourth all-time leading rebounder in the Big Ten on the opposing team. I’m very excited about [13-plus rebounding margin.]”
The Illini didn’t take their foot off the gas in the second half either. Illinois limited its turnovers to just two during the final 20 minutes and found a lot of easy buckets around the rim. The team would finish with 52 points in the paint on the night, but it was Frazier who got things started in the second half. Eleven of his 15 points on the night came in the second frame, wrapping up Illinois’ biggest win of the year, 95-68.
Dosunmu showed just why he’s been a first-round projection in the year’s upcoming draft. The freshman led all scorers with 23 points, while also chipping in four rebounds and two assists. The former five-star recruit from Chicago looked dominant at times, finishing over much larger defenders and converting in transition.
“I got to coach [former Kansas State guard] Michael Beasley,” Underwood said. “He was the No. 2 pick in the draft that year... Ayo’s definitely up there. He’s unique. He’s got a great mental capacity to learn and absorb information. Now, the game is starting to slow down.”
Bezhanishvili also shined in the win, finishing with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor and eight boards.
“I’m so happy for that locker room because it’s been guys that know they’re good players,” Underwood said. “Winning is really, really hard... Now, we’ve got to do the next thing. We proved we can play with anybody and now win games.”
TWEET OF THE GAME
hello @nba there is nothing to see in Champaign. In fact, call your cable provider and remove BTN from your package— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 17, 2019
HE SAID IT
Ayo Dosunmu: "Early in the season, we took a lot of punches. Now, it's time for us to throw punches."— Isaac Trotter (@isaac_trotter2) January 17, 2019
MOMENTS THAT MATTER
- A Dosunmu to Da’Monte Williams alley-oop and a Dosunmu runner in the lane capped a 10-2 run by the Illini to solidify a 23-point halftime lead.
- Freshman Samba Kane showed just the kind of havoc he can wreak on opposing defenses with this smooth turnaround jumper in the first half.
Wouldn't mind three more years of this at all https://t.co/o2r9N56ql7— TK (@TKissack20) January 17, 2019
The Illini will hit the road to take on Iowa this Sunday at 12 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.
The No. 23 Hawkeyes (14-3, 3-3) are winners of eight of their last nine and are led by junior Tyler Cook. He and teammate Jordan Bohannon combined to score 94 points against Illinois in two games last season.