I think the worst part of that game was the palpable lack of excitement while Illinois was up 10 on the road at Indiana in the first half. We all knew.
It was good to see the team come out and play some inspired basketball and to see them run hard, pass well and play some great offense. It was nice to see them not put their opponent in the bonus in the first 10 minutes of the game. But that’s all it was.
The team is still playing hard and playing for its coach, which is important. There is a lot of development left to do. And it’s not easy to give it your all when you’re 4-10. But if this has any chance of working, there needs to be individual growth and development from the younger players on the team.
There were some really great things to point to in this one. Da’Monte was 2-of-3 from three. Ayo Dosunmu had an all-around career game. Giorgi showed great shot decision making, and some not so great playmaking decision making.
This isn’t a game anyone thought Illinois would win, but for a brief moment in the first half, the Illini looked more than capable of pulling it off. Even if we all knew it wasn’t sustainable. Maybe that’s a moral victory, but It’s better than getting killed by 25+ from the jump. Baby steps.
This next one at Northwestern is really important. If they can’t win that one... there’s no telling how long we may have to wait for that first Big Ten victory.
On to the recap.
The freshman put together his best performance since the second game of the season vs. Georgetown. Dosunmu put up 20 points, three rebounds, three assists with only one turnover and no fouls in 36 minutes. He shot 7-of-12 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three. Perhaps he was in the zone to go up against five-star freshman Romeo Langford (28 points), but Ayo was in the zone. Ayo’s shot was falling and he was playing an inspired brand of basketball on the defensive end as well. He provided good ball pressure and forced IU into a few turnovers. He put his speed on display by pushing the pace all night, but it only resulted in seven fast-break points for Illinois.
However, as has been the case this year, when Ayo plays well, Illinois doesn’t get much from Trent Frazier. Frazier ended with 11 points and six assists, with most of his production coming during the #FakeRally down the stretch. Frazier only played eight minutes and scored two points in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. Illinois’ youth and inexperience means it need its two best players to have above-average games in order to win.
And we’ve yet to see that this year, which is a big reason why the Illini are 4-10.
Bless your heart, Kip. Nichols is going take a lot of flack after fouling out in 16 minutes with only two points and two rebounds on 1-of-6 shooting. Nichols went 0-for-3 from three to extend his streak to three straight games without a three point make (0-13 in that stretch).
Nichols racked up some quick fouls trying to make the right defensive play, but he was just a half-step slow all night. And that’s been the story of his career under Underwood. He needs to be this team’s consistent third option, and he just hasn’t been able to take that step yet.
G-Bez has one of his better games with 18 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes. The big fella fouled out at the very end of the game but foul trouble never kept him off the court. He also turned it over five times, including a few live ball TOs to start the second half that helped Indiana extend its lead. The freshman struggled to keep Juwan Morgan off the offensive glass, but his offenssive game was impressive.
Giorgi didn’t force any bad jumpers today and was an efficient 8-of-10 from the field and got to the line four times. Illinois would have probably liked to get him a few more touches down low, but that’s about as much as you can ask for from the freshman big man on offense.
In an homage to past Tom Crean Indiana teams, Illinois committed 21 turnovers at Assembly Hall. That number is a season high. The team came into last night averaging 14 turnovers with the previous season high of 16 coming in contests against Xavier and UNLV. Five of those turnovers were shot clock violations, and there were at least three to five more possessions that ended with a heaved three to beat the shot clock.
Indiana played poised and patient defense as Illinois cycled through the spread offense, and the Hoosiers forced the ball to non-shooters at the end of the clock. These possessions really drained the clock and gave the Hoosiers momentum heading the other way. The Illini shot 54 percent in the first half, which has to be one of the best shooting halves on the season, but the 11 first-half turnovers limited possessions and shot attempts, which only allowed the Illini to put up 32 points during a good shooting half. They simply aren’t good enough to get away with that.
That’s the number of free throws Indiana attempted last night. That’s the second-highest for an Illini opponent (39 at Notre Dame). Illinois has done a lot of fouling in the state to the east. 27 of those free throws came in the second half. This is natural and expected since Illinois was behind for all of the second half and had to foul late to get back into the game.
But Romeo Langford had his way with Illinois and led the way going 11-of-15 to the line on his way for 28 points. Illinois didn’t have anyone with the size and speed to stay in front of Langford which left them in trouble all night.
That’s what Illinois shot from three-point range last night (8-28). It’s also what they have shot from three-point range over the last six games. After starting off as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country (~40%), the Illini have quickly regressed to the norm and are now shooting 35% from three on the year.
Basketball is usually a simple game. Make shots and you win. Miss shots and you lose. Illinois was making quite a few shots and still racking up losses. This was a major concern I had about seven or eight games in. There was only one place for that three-point number to go, and a plummeting three-point percentage is only going to lead to more losses. The counterpoint would be that the Illini can heat back up from three and steal a few conference games.
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