Nichols’ first half was a taste of future of Illinois basketball

Illinois+Kipper+Nichols+%282%29+goes+up+for+a+layup+during+the+game+against+Minnesota+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+4.+The+Illini+lost+68-59.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Kipper Nichols (2) goes up for a layup during the game against Minnesota at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 4. The Illini lost 68-59.

By Matt Gertsmeier and Illini hoops columnist

It was social media day at the Illinois-Minnesota game, and Kipper Nichols was trending the for the Illini — at least during the first half.

The freshman wing had a career-high 16 points and six rebounds as the Illini lost 68-59 against the Gophers.

I strongly believe Nichols will be the face of the Illini starting next year. Today proved that and head coach John Groce demonstrated it as he made substitutions throughout the game.

Illini scoring leader Malcolm Hill got into foul trouble early in the game and Groce looked to Nichols to step up.

If Nichols was a stock, I would advise advise people to buy immediately. I think he is undervalued for Illinois. Nichols is on an upward trend and I think that’s going to continue. He has the tools and skills to be the next Hill for Illinois.

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    The worst part of his night was it took way too long for him to check in the second half. After dropping 13 points off of 100 percent shooting from the field in the first half, it was shocking to see it take nearly five minutes before he re-entered the game.

    There were three substitutions before Nichols had his name called back into the lineup. It appears Groce has predetermined lineups and he’s going to stick to them no matter how the first half played out.

    The Illini played decent in the first half as they entered halftime tied 35-35 with Minnesota.

    But, the second half was a way different ball game.

    Illinois dug itself into a deep hole as the Gophers went on a 9-2 run to start and things went south quickly.

    Once Nichols was finally subbed in, there wasn’t much he could do to turn things around. He lost his momentum and only took three shots in the second half. His first basket of the second half occurred with 33.4 seconds to play. I want to see more confidence out of Nichols in the future, and I want to see Groce trust his freshman.

    The Illini plateaued and quickly started to decline in the second. Illinois had no energy and no offensive flow.

    Illinois shot 30 percent from the field and 11 percent from three in the second. Hill looked rattled and was careless with the ball. While he finished with 13 points, he shot 5-for-18 from the field and did not look like himself. Jalen Coleman-Lands, who went 0-7 in the first half, continued to jack up shots and miss. Coleman-Lands finished the game 0-10 from the field and 0-for-8 from deep.

    The Illini made things extremely difficult for themselves to come back, but they still made the attempt. It was just too little, too late. Illinois got hot and went on a run, but the Gophers quickly extinguished it.

    This was a beatable Minnesota team, and it’s disappointing to see the Illini fall flat. If things aren’t working, change it up. Even if that means benching guys you usually rely on. Both Hill and Coleman-Lands proved to be liabilities on the floor today.

    Dropping two home games in a row is not helping Groce’s cause to stick around in Champaign. Time is dwindling and a complete 180 for Illinois this season seems like a shot in the dark.

    As the Illini lost to Minnesota, it might be worth noting former Illini head coach Bruce Weber and Kansas State upset No. 3 Baylor.

    Just putting that out there.

    Matt is a Junior in Business. 

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier