Illinois loses shootout in Las Vegas


Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Mark Smith holds the ball away from his defender during the game against North Carolina Central at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. The Illini won 86-73.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

University of Nevada, Las Vegas went on a 14-6 run over 2:23 minutes late in the contest after a Mark Smith 3-pointer cut the Rebel lead to two points with a little over three minutes remaining.

UNLV (8-2) pulled away late for an 89-82 victory over Illinois (7-4, Big Ten 0-2).

Smith led the Illini with 17 points, and he shot 4 out of 5 from 3-point range. Smith was 4 for 28 from 3-point range in the previous 10 games.

Rebel freshman Brandon McCoy scored 22 points (9-11 FG) and brought down 10 rebounds. He started the game with two dunks early in the contest, and the Rebels took a 14-4 lead after hitting their first six shots from the field.

Freshman Trent Frazier ignited the Illini off the bench with 16 points (6-11 FG, 2-3 3FG) and a team-high four steals. Twelve of his points came in the first half, and his effort willed the Illini to a 12-0 run, which cut into the Rebel’s early 10-point lead.

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“I thought the play of Trent Frazier was unbelievable in the first half,” coach Brad Underwood said.

Illinois struggled with foul trouble against UNLV. The Illini committed 36 fouls, which tied the most in program history, dating back to the Elite Eight match-up against Arizona in the 2001 NCAA tournament.

“We outrebounded the best rebounding team in the country,” Underwood said. “I’ll take the fight that our guys had, now we’ve got to learn to play a little smarter.”

Both Smith and senior Mark Alstork fouled out in the final minutes, and five other Illini players recorded four personal fouls.

Rebel senior guard Jovan Mooring scored a game-high 27 points (5-10 FG, 3-6 3FG), and he alone shot 14-18 from the charity stripe.

UNLV shot 33 for 48 from the free throw line, whereas Illinois converted 11 of 15 attempts.

The Illini first took the lead on a 3-pointer from junior Aaron Jordan with 14:32 minutes left in the game. Jordan scored 10 points (3-6 FG, 2-3 3FG) and secured four rebounds in a team-high 31 minutes on the floor.

“The scouting reports definitely don’t leave me open, so when the time comes, and my teammates find me, I have to capitalize,” Jordan said.

Junior Leron Black, who is the team’s leading scorer so far this season, left the game with an apparent injury after just 12 minutes on the floor.

Black sat the duration of the second half on the bench with his arm in a sling.

Sophomore Kipper Nichols played a significant role inside after the absence of Black. He scored eight points and fought for a team-high 10 rebounds in the post.

Junior forward Michael Finke also chipped in for 12 points (5-11 FG, 2-6 3FG) and seven rebounds.

Illinois attempted 17 more shots than UNLV, despite it recording only four additional turnovers than the host team (16-12).

“We’re right there, we’re so close to beating good teams,” Finke said. “It’s just dumb plays at times, it’s fouling – and it’s not even just fouls that are aggressive fouls –  it’s in the backcourt, where they’re not even a threat at times; we have to clean it up and play smarter.”

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