LAS VEGAS, Nevada (WCIA) — The fight is there, the freshmen are making plays, yet the final result is just not there yet. The loss to UNLV is Illinois’ 4th straight loss against a Power 5 team. Their only win over a team from a major basketball conference is DePaul.
We certainly saw flashes of what the Illini can be here in Vegas but it’s a lot of the same problems that continue to haunt the orange and blue. Fouls and a whole lot of them. Illinois tied a program record committing 36 fouls. The Rebels attempted 48 free throws, 33 more than the Illini.
“If it’s 48-15 at the free throw line, on the road, you’re not winning,” Brad Underwood said after the same.
“We executed for the most part it’s just the fouling. We’ve got to cut out the fouling. I mean they shot 48 free throws tonight, that’s inexcusable,” Michael Finke added. “If they shoot half of that we’re right there. We’ve just got to be smarter.”
The Vegas stage wasn’t too bright for two Illini freshmen. Trent Frazier shined scoring a career high 16 points and was a presence defensively as well. Mark Smith kicked his recent slump, scoring 17 to lead the Illini, including 4-of-5 from three.
“I’m excited to see the ball go in because we know he’s a good shooter and being 4-of-30 or whatever he was, that may change with some dynamic to our team,” Underwood continued.
“Those guys stepped up big in big moments and that’s what we need from them,” Aaron Jordan said. “You know I don’t care how young they are, I don’t care how much experience they have. Those guys can play and that’s what they’ve got to do for us.”
With all the things that we talked about being considered, were you surprised it was even this close at the end?
“I was. To have that foul discrepancy and UNLV has points in the game where they got hit and maybe you thought they could blow this thing open but Mark Smith hit some big shots and this team battled back. They were in there at the end but obviously when your opponent shoots 48 free throws, that’s tough to overcome.
And that’s great that they’re in games at the end but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What has to be the difference for them to close out some of these wins against higher opponents?
“It’s really the self-inflicted things right now. The fouling unnecessarily in the backcourt. The turnovers are still an issue and then late game execution. This team has to be able to be in a game and then find a way to win so it’s a freshmen team, a lot of freshmen on this team that are still learning through that and they’ve got to be able to execute when I️t counts.
And they’ve got four games left here before Big Ten play starts and you look at I️t right now. They’ve got two Big Ten losses, both OT games, they were right there but what does this team need to do in the next four games before you get a tough Big Ten slate on the road to start.
“You need more consistency. You like the fact Mark Smith stepped up, Trent Frazier stepped up, you’re seeing some growth with those freshmen. I think with your veterans now, we don’t know the extent of Leron’s injury, but Michael Finke has to be a go-to each and every night. Kipper Nichols as well. He was really good the first night, didn’t give you much the second, but really just being able to piece together some consistency at both ends of the floor. You see some pieces there, you’ve just got to be able to fit them all together.
Illinois is back at home on Wednesday to host Longwood.