That was sloppy, but in the end a victory is a victory.
It really should not have been that close. However, the Illini made enough plays late, and gutted out a victory against a bad Northwestern team.
It was important to win this game at home to establish some late season momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament, acting as a springboard for 2019-20.
What an impressive performance from the JUCO transfer, including 26 points and 15-of-16 from the free throw line. He slashed to the basket and was active defensively.
Feliz was everywhere.
I must admit I was quick to dismiss Feliz as a weak addition a couple months ago. He still doesn't shoot particularly well. He's one of the few players who can create his own shot consistently, however.
He's a beautiful disaster of a basketball player. He's fearless when taking the basketball down the lane. Sometimes it seems hectic and out of control, and yet he contortions his body in ways that defy logic, slipping the basketball through the hoop in a variety of ways. It's terrifying and awe-inspiring in a single instant. He's the heart and soul of the Illini right now, and has really come on strong at an important time for Illinois.
Again, another player who can create his own shot and get to the basket in a variety of ways.
He finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists. It was a pretty well-rounded recovery after a few tough losses and poor efficiency from Ayo and Trent Frazier.
He's such a smooth athlete, and with Feliz and Frazier, makes up a pretty dynamic fast break offense for Illinois going into next season (hopefully). If he gains a bit more consistency with his outside game, he will be an unstoppable lead guard.
Foul line prowess
It has been a while since Illinois shot more free throws than the opposition. Or maybe it just feels that way. Yet, late against Northwestern, it was the Illini who iced it with tough fouls and free throw adeptness.
It reminds of another team, I don't know, maybe one that starts with a W and rhymes with Dadgers? One that gets all the foul calls late, and ices the game at the free stripe? That one that plays in Madison. Yeah, we Badgered someone...
It wasn't that Giorgi wasn't effective. He just made a lot of freshman mistakes. It's okay. It happens. Illini fans have been so spoiled with how mature his game is, that we forget he's indeed just a freshman. Again, he wasn't terrible, but he wasn't at his best yesterday. These games will happen with Giorgi. With Ayo. With Feliz and Frazier.
Especially when the opponent pays you more attention due to recent success. Teams have been doubling Giorgi down low due to his efficiency on the offensive end. It has shown.
I'm not worried about it. Nor should Illini fans. I'm just envisioning this kid as a junior or senior and it'll be special. It just takes some bumps along the road. This was one of them.
Speaking of, Frazier has been really off the mark the last couple of games. It might have to do with his recent leg troubles. He hasn't looked the same since suffering a lower leg injury against Ohio State.
His torrid February has hit a proverbial wall, as it did at the end of 2018.
Again, it's not a huge worry, but hopefully he can get right in time for the Big Ten Tournament. He's still the best shooter Illinois has.
Fouling it up (almost)
It was a much closer score than it should have been. The culprit? Fouling late.
My goodness were there some bad fouls called. On both teams.
Illinois has some very active hands on defense. It creates a lot of turnovers. It also causes many fouls. The Illini play very hard, but sometimes it gets the better of them. You simply can't foul a team in the last minute when you're up by two possessions or more. You just can't.
Overall, it was a sloppy affair, but a solid win against the bottom of the Big Ten. A bit of payback for their rough loss earlier in the season.
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