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Illinois holds off Nicholls State in OT, 78-70

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The Illini survive a thriller to start the year.

@IlliniMBB // Twitter

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — That’s not why Nicholls State is on the schedule.

In its season opener, Illinois barely survived the Colonels in overtime, 78-70, at the State Farm Center in Champaign on Tuesday night.

“Winners find a way,” said Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood. “Defensively, we re-engaged. We held Nicholls to 1-of-6 [in overtime]. We did what we had to do in the overtime, but there was a seven-, eight-, nine-minute stretch where we didn’t do any of that.”

The competition doesn’t get any easier with tests against Grand Canyon and Arizona looming, but the Illini did just enough to pull out the win at home despite a far from stellar performance.

Neither team looked particularly ready to play at tip. Illinois and Nicholls State combined for 20 first-half turnovers and a measly 34 percent from the field. The Illini struggled with Nicholls State’s fullcourt ball pressure, keeping them from establishing any sort of rhythm offensively. The Colonels’ forced the Illini into a three-minute scoring drought, but suffered a scoring drought of almost eight minutes themselves. Ayo Dosunmu (21 points, seven rebounds) and Andres Feliz (23 points, 11 rebounds) found the most success when pushing the ball in transition.

“I thought we were really, really good defensively in the first half,” Underwoord said. “I think that’s the team we’re trying to become.”

Underwood struggled to find the right mix of players on the floor, especially at the four and five position. Despite the sluggish start, Illinois still ended the half on top 30-19 due to some great defense, three drawn charges from Trent Frazier, and a rebounding margin of 30 to 10.

The Illini were able to string together a few solid possessions in the second half, but still struggled holding onto the ball. With a minute remaining, the Illini found themselves down two after a 16-0 run from Nicholls State. A pair of free throws from Trent Frazier tied the ballgame at 66 which is where the score would stay heading into overtime.

“We weren’t engaged,” Dosunmu said. “We let a team on the road get hot, they have nothing to lose. They had nothing to lose and were just making shots.”

Feliz stepped up in extra time, scoring the first seven points for the Illini as they pulled away from the Colonels, 78-70.

“I’m ecstatic we won the game, don’t get me wrong,” Underwood said. “I thought we got outplayed tonight. That’s something I challenge myself with as a coach everyday. When we’re not mentally tuned in, that’s on me.”

Moments That Mattered

  • Silly Mistakes: After coming out of a timeout, Illinois struggled to find some momentum. A missed floater from Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois turned the ball over after a 10-second violation. Nicholls State would tie the game at 64 on the ensuing possession.
  • Defensive Impact: Trent Frazier didn’t score tonight, but that didn’t mean that his presence wasn’t felt. The junior drew three offensive fouls in the first half when the Illini were struggling to put points on the board. Frazier went 0-for-9 but was the facilitator when Illinois needed him to be. He ended up with a +9 while on the floor. As one of the most experienced players on this team, it is crucial for Frazier to set a precedent for the young guys.
  • Free Throw Shooting: Illinois was atrocious from the line shooting 11-of-20 before the final 30 seconds of the game. When the free throws counted, Trent Frazier connected on both. Without his calm attitude at the line, Illinois wouldn’t be able to take the win in overtime.

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He Said It

  • “That was a tough win. We knew we were going to have to fight for 40 minutes... It was a hard fight, we’re gonna take this win and enjoy it because we fought hard tonight.” — Trent Frazier

Tweet of the Game

Who’s Next

Illinois travels to Grand Canyon University on Friday to play the Antelopes in Phoenix. The Illini then travel to Tucson to play No. 21 Arizona Wildcats on Sunday.