Illinois cruises to a 91-74 victory over Marshall


Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Leron Black (12) looks to shoot the ball during the game against Tennessee-Martin at State Farm Center on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. The Illini won 77-74.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Illinois overcame Marshall’s early uptempo, hot three-point shooting performance before imposing a physical presence in a 91-74 victory at State Farm Center.

Juniors Kipper Nichols and Leron Black continued their dominant play. Nichols had the first double-double of his career, scoring 17 points and bringing down 11 rebounds.

Head coach Brad Underwood believes that Nichols has yet to reach his ceiling, and alluded to his ability to grab a rebound and dribble up the floor to lead a fast break.

“Kipper’s a guy that step out and shoot a three; he’s a guy we can put in isolations, he’s guy that can post up and his versatility is a positive for us,” Underwood said.

Black also scored 17 points and had 9 rebounds of his own. He recorded a team-high four offensive rebounds.

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Illinois finished with 17 offensive rebounds and shot 44 percent from the field. Four offensive rebounds came on the very first offensive possession of the second half.

Marshall applied full-court man-to-man pressure, and on the offensive end, followed head coach Dan D’Antoni’s system of “Hillbilly Ball”,  relying heavily on corner three-point shots created by players driving to the basket.

These three-point attempts even sometimes came a step or two from behind the line, where there was less pressure from Illinois defenders.

Marshall freshman guard Jarrod West hit a long three-pointer just three seconds before the first-half buzzer sounded.

In the first half, the Herd shot 7 of 18 on three-point attempts, but were 7 of 15 from the free-throw stripe as they trailed the Illini 46-36 at halftime.

West led all scorers with 23 points. He was 7 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 from three-point range.

Marshall finished 10 of 29 from the three-point line. Illinois was an efficient 7 of 15 from behind the arc, and shot 44 percent from the field.

Junior Jon Elmore continued his 39-game streak of scoring in double-digits with 14 points. The preseason All-Conference USA selection scored a career-high 38 points in a Nov. 10 victory over UT-Martin.

“He’s pressing because he hasn’t learned to trust the players he has this year,” D’Antoni said.

D’Antoni thought that Elmore was forcing his shot, rather than looking for other players cutting to the hoop, particularly on the pick-and-roll.

Illinois recorded only six turnovers while forcing 19 from Marshall on the defensive end.

“Elmore’s terrific when he can make quick passes to layups,” Underwood said. “We made them make long passes; we got them out playing toward the half-court line.”

Black set the tone late in the first half with a two-handed dunk in transition to put Illinois ahead 28-20. The dunk came off a short bounce pass Mark Alstork on a three-on-one opportunity, caused by a steal from junior Aaron Jordan on the previous possession.

His dunk capped off a 17-6 run from the Illini and resulted in a quick timeout from D’Antoni. which occurred shortly after Black returned to the ground after swinging on the rim.

Illinois briefly switched to a full-court man-to-man look after a free-throw attempt with 8:48 remaining in the first half. Underwood quickly subbed in Nichols before the second free-throw attempt.

Williams responded by forcing a turnover in which he deflected the first pass from freshman forward Jannson Williams, following the inbound pass after the made basket, before hustling after the loose ball and bouncing it off freshman guard Jarrod West as he tumbled into the first row of courtside seats.