There was a time on Saturday where many fans, myself included, worries the Illini were in the process of giving back a huge lead. When the lead dwindled to seven with just over 35 seconds to go following a series of missed free throws, fans rightly feared the worst. However, a win is a win and the Illini got just that on Saturday.
I know many who read this feel it is disingenuous to criticize following a victory. ‘Don’t knock a win’ many say. If you are unable to find fault and areas for improvement, even in victory, you are not looking at this thing objectively.
Kipper Nichols: A+
There was not much more you could have asked for out of Kip. A season high 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting along with six boards in limited time off the bench. All in all a solid day from a bench guy who has seen his time dwindle in recent weeks following struggle after struggle. Now, it appears the lack of playing time has served as a bit of motivation for the junior.
Everyone guarding Glynn Watson, Jr.: B
Watson, Jr. was going to be the key to a Huskers victory. Thankfully, the entire roster did its part to limit his effectiveness. Held to 6 points and 2 boards in 30 minutes, Illinois did its part to shut down Watson all game long. With the relative ineffictivenes of Watson, the Illini capitalized on his frustration, forcing him to foul out late in the matchup.
Starting Guard Play: C-
Between Ayo Dosunmu, Aaron Jordan, and Trent Frazier, there were a couple bright spots. For instance, the three combined for only three turnovers. That may be where the positives end. In 87 combined minutes, the trio combined for 24 points on 10 for 25 shooting. With a mere five assists and two steals, the guard play, something the Illini have hung their hat on in 2018-19, was uncharacteristically pedestrian on Saturday. If the Illini hope to come away Tuesday with a win over Michigan State, they better find a way to improve.
Free Throw Shooting: Whatever is worse than F-
At this point do we even need to discuss this at this point? The Illini have an Achilles heel and it is free throw shooting. One of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country managed to be even worse while going 9 for 23 while missing their last four, nearly allowing Nebraska back in to the game. Underwood MUST find a way to fix the free throw woes. This epidemic has cost games this season and from the looks of things, this issue is not being addressed in practice — even if they said they practiced a lot.
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