YOUR FIGHTING ILLINI ARE NO LONGER WINLESS IN THE BIG TEN!!! After dismantling Minnesota, 95-68, on Wednesday night in front of a raucous and reenergized Orange Krush, Illinois can look back on this matchup fondly. Entering the game, these two teams could not have been more different. At 13-3, Minnesota looked poised to come into the State Farm Center and dominate the then-4-12 Illini. Then, the game happened. So. Many. Emotions.
This entire season fans had longed to see this kind of game from the Illini. Strong guard play, minimal mistakes, smart offense. Wednesday delivered that. Giorgi B. had the poise and intelligence of an upperclassman. The bench played well enough to support the starters. Essentially every part of this team was clicking at the same time.
Shoot, the Illini were even hitting free throws.
There is nowhere else to start other than with the fabulous freshman play of Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvilli. Together they combined for 43 points and 12 boards. Giorgi B. himself pulled down a whopping six rebounds on the offensive glass. This was easily the best night for both of these two young men and they both looked to be ready to turn this thing around.
Yet, these two aren’t the only freshmen to score big tonight. Samba Kane, Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin combined for 11 points off the bench. These young athletes looked ready from the outset of the game and it showed early.
The hope for this team is that they are able to build off this for the future of the season.
Fouling and turnovers have plagued this team all season, and even in a huge victory, these things do not dissipate. With 16 turnovers and 20 fouls, along with sophomore star Trent Frazier grabbing two early whistles, this team could have faltered early in the matchup. Had this been a closer game, the early foul trouble could have spelled disaster. It has all season long in other matchups. This would have been no different for the Illini. Thankfully, this team rallied around each other and put the rest of the Big Ten on notice that the Illini are no longer the doormat.
The Illini are going to have to learn how to play smarter defense as the season progresses. I love the suffocating style Underwood employs. I think it keeps teams off-balance and allows them little time to get comfortable.
However, we can not afford to continue fouling at the rate this team does. As one of the most foul-happy teams in the nation, Underwood and Co. must find a way to teach the basics of this system while showing men how to not foul.
In a game like this, I’m not going to point out anything ugly. Except Pitino’s hair. There. I said one thing.
I believe, as I will now say, that the Illini will win the Big Ten Tournament. I can’t wait to see this team at 19-12 roll through the BTT all the way to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Seriously, though. Where has this team been all year? The ball handles, the ability to score off turnovers, fast break points, the things that have been missing all season magically appeared in Champaign. Whatever the team did today, do that every day for the rest of the season. This team has the potential to win some more games and Wednesday was hopefully just the beginning. The remainder of the schedule is a bit more friendly than the first half of the season was. As a fan, 6-8 Big Ten wins would be an absolute success from where we currently stand. Anything more is a bonus.
Anything less? Well, at least they got one.
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