Illinois picks up first Big Ten win against Indiana


Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Aaron Jordan (23) celebrates during the game against Indiana at State Farm Center on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

By Will Gerard, Staff Writer

For the first time since it knocked off Michigan State at home last year, Illinois won a conference game.

Illinois (11-11, 1-8 Big Ten) defeated Indiana (12-9, 5-4 Big Ten) 73-71 at State Farm Center on Wednesday night.

Sophomore forward Kipper Nichols and senior guard Mark Alstork stepped up when it mattered in crunch time.

Nichols sank an uncontested 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:16 minutes left, and Alstork scooped up a loose ball during the next Hoosier possession and drove to the basket on the fastbreak.

Nichols scored all 12 of his points (2-4 FG, 7-7 FT) in the second half.

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Alstork could not convert the layup, but he drew a foul and knocked down both free throw to give the Illini an eight-point lead.

Indiana made a late comeback behind a 6-0 run over 48 seconds within the final minute, although Illinois successfully took care of the ball when it mattered. Freshman point guard Trent Frazier drew a foul cutting to get open on an inbounds pass from underneath his basket and no time came off the clock.

Frazier missed both attempts, but Indiana failed to complete the comeback as it proceeded to turn the ball over with only a few seconds left.

“I’m going to put the ball in Trent’s hands the rest of his career,” Underwood said. “He will make those mistakes again.”

Illinois forced 18 turnovers, while committing four fewer errors on the offensive end.

As a team, Indiana 57-percent from the field, and Illinois finished at 46-percent.

The Illini got off to a slow start as the Hoosiers started the game on a 12-4 over the first 3:30 minutes, and they would eventually expand the lead to nine points at the midway point in the first half.

Junior forward Juwan Morgan made his inside presence known early as he scored 12 of the first 28 points for Indiana.

Morgan finished with 28 points (12-14 FG) and eight rebounds, however, he shot a mere 3-8 from the charity stripe.

The Hoosiers were 16-29 from the free throw line, whereas the Illini were an efficient 23-23, and they were also in the bonus for the final 14:42 minutes of the game.

“Once we created a little space, we were able to drive it,” Underwood said.

Illinois junior forward Leron Black did his best to match Morgan’s presence early, and he himself scored eight of his team’s first 14 points.

Black led the Illini frontcourt scoring with 19 points, and he snagged a team-high six rebounds.

Both Black and Nichols played the final nine minutes with four personal fouls.

“Leron dominated the game,” Underwood said. “It’s a bad feeling when he’s sitting on the bench.”

Black, freshman point guard Trent Frazier and sophomore point guard Te’Jon Lucas scored a combined 28 points in the first half.

Frazier scored 13 consecutive points for the Illini over under a six-minute stretch; his scoring streak started on a euro-step layup and ended with a step-back 3-pointer off the dribble.

The streak ended on an assist to Lucas, who spotted up from the right corner with 38 seconds remaining before the halftime buzzer.

Lucas scored 11 points, and it was his first time scoring in double-digits since the Dec. 16 loss to New Mexico State at the United Center.

Illinois trailed Indiana 38-32 at intermission, however, it tied the game on a quick 6-0 run within the first 90 seconds of the second half.

“We did very, very little right in the first half, Trent single-handily kept us in it with a little Leron in there,” Underwood said.

Frazier orchestrated the offense as he scored 19 points (7-15 FG), while dishing out three assists.

The majority of the 13,003 fans in attendance rose to their feet when Frazier tied the score at 51 with 11:53 minutes left in the second half, following a steal and fast break basket for junior guard Aaron Jordan on the team’s prior defensive possession.

Frazier scored another layup on the ensuing Illini possession to give the home team their first lead of the entire game, and head coach Archie Miller called a quick timeout in response.

Freshman guards Mark Smith and Da’Monte Williams didn’t see the floor in the second half.

Underwood said the decision had to do with the spacing and defensive intensity provided by other players, such as Lucas and Nichols.

“When you play Illinois, it’s tough because they are completely different than anyone else on offense and defense,” Miller said.

Frazier said that the Illini are “becoming a true team,” while establishing their “identity” on the floor.

“We’re finally building that culture,” Frazier said. “We played hard tonight, and on Monday night, we played absolutely incredible.”