Notes and grades: Illini shoot down Hawkeyes in regular-season final

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Illinois head coach Brad Underwoos high fives members of the Orange Krush student section after Illinois’ game against Iowa at State Farm Center Sunday night. The Illini beat the Hawkeyes 78-76.

By Alec Busse, Staff Writer

Illinois hasn’t shot over 49% since Jan. 21 when Illinois beat Purdue, 79-62, on the road, and the high percentage is a large reason that head coach Brad Underwood’s team clinched a four seed in the Big Ten Tournament after beating Iowa on Sunday night 78-76 in a rowdy State Farm Center.

Trent Frazier: C

Junior guard Trent Frazier can’t seem to figure out a way to shoot consistently to find the bottom of the net. A year ago, that sounded unthinkable.

As a freshman, Frazier averaged 12.5 points a game. He improved to 13.7 points per game as a sophomore. The regular season is complete, and Frazier’s average fell under 10 points a game for the first time in his career. In Illinois’ last 10 games, Frazer shot 26% from the field, just 29.5% on two-point field goals, and an ugly 23.3% from three. Sunday, Frazier made only three 3-of-13 shots and just 1-of-8 threes. The law of averages should play out at some point in the next couple of games and Frazier should get going, but this shooting slump is concerning for Illinois. Frazier hasn’t allowed his shooting woes to affect his defense where he’s still Illinois’ best on-ball defender. On Sunday, Frazier held Iowa freshman CJ Fredrick to just three points but needs to get back on track before the postseason officially starts on Friday.

Ayo Dosunmu: A+

At one point in the second half, Illinois had a 14 point lead and sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu only had nine points. On Sunday, the sophomore made it a priority to make his teammates better and he did so. Dosunmu finished with eight assists, his most since Jan. 21 against Purdue. Dosunmu turned it on late in the game and scored when his team needed it the most. Dosunmu hit a dagger that gave Illinois a more controlling lead with less than a minute left. Add this jumper to Ayo’s book of winning-time daggers. If this was Dosunmu’s last game at State Farm Center, he went out with a bang posting 17 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.

Andrés Feliz: A-

On his senior night, senior Andrés Feliz had himself a game.

On Thursday against Ohio State, Feliz only scored on 4-of-14 shots against the Buckeyes. On Sunday, Feliz was back to his efficient ways as he made 5-of-8 field goals and a pair of threes. Underwood said he wants players like Feliz to be the players his program is built around. Feliz’s bulldog mentality carries the Illini through the tough moments and scoring droughts with his ability to get to the basket and make layups. Feliz has a history of winning, look for him to step up in Tournament time.

Da’Monte Williams: A

Suddenly, junior guard Da’Monte Williams has started to make three-point shots. In Illinois’s last three contests, Williams has made 2-of-3 attempts from three. On Sunday, Williams went 2-for-3 from deep with both of his makes coming in the first half.

\Williams finished with nine points on Sunday, which is the most since November when he scored 18 against Lindenwood, a Division II opponent. In other words, Williams had his best game scoring game of the season. Seeing shots go through is a good thing for Williams and Illinois’ offense. He’s still shooting just 25% on the year from behind the arc, but if his recent success forces teams to step out and guard his three-point shot, Illinois’ offense will open up.

Kofi Cockburn: A-

In the first half, Illinois fed its freshman phenom to the tune of nine points, with two alley-oop slams. The second half produced six more points, which got him to his total of 12 on the night. It’s not fair to dock center Kofi Cockburn too much for allowing likely Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza to post 28 points. Garza finished with at least 20 points in 16 straight games following Sunday’s game, an impressive streak. Cockburn also produced a game-saving block with less than two seconds left against Garza, who was attempting to tie the game at 78 as time expired. Cockburn won Big Ten Freshman of the Year on Monday after another impressive performance against one of the Big Ten’s best.

Alan Griffin: C+

Sophomore guard Alan Griffin played a smaller role than usual on Sunday in Illinois’ win taking just three shots and grabbing only two rebounds. Griffin’s one made shot was a three with only 41 seconds left in the first half to give Illinois a lead. Griffin hasn’t come close to replicating the performance he had against Northwestern on Feb. 27 when he exploded for 24 points. Most Illini have found consistent roles, but Griffin may not have defined his role yet. Griffin is a wild card, and that isn’t a bad thing because he has the ability to off for double-digit scoring and several rebounds. If Griffin can find consistent scoring and defense, Illinois becomes dangerous in the postseason.

Kipper Nichols: A

Senior forward Kipper Nichols saved his best performance of the season for his Senior Night. Nichols posted 10 points and grabbed three crucial offensive rebounds. The 10 points are the most Nichols had finished with since Feb. 2, 2019, against Nebraska when he posted 18 points. The senior didn’t miss any of his three field-goal attempts and made all four of his free throws. Nichols was also right on the defensive end, and his maturity is showing with his refusal to comment about his performance in the post-game press conference. Senior leadership and maturity keep teams focused in March, time for Nichols to take the next step.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili: B+

Sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili finished with six points and rebounds on Sunday, which shows promise for the Georgian-native getting back on track. The sophomore has seen his minutes slashed but is 4-of-7 on his last seven field-goal attempts in the previous two games; his confidence is slowly creeping back. Bezhanishvili smoked an open layup in the second half but responded on the next possession with a finish at the rim. He seems to be accepting of his role off the bench, and if Bezhanishvili fully regains his confidence, Illinois has an offensive weapon off the bench to replace Cockburn. Bezhanishvili also played great defense on Sunday. When Cockburn was out of the game to rest or because of foul trouble, Bezhanishvili controlled Garza to just 3-of-10 from the field.

Tyler Underwood: C

Graduate senior guard Tyler Underwood brought his father to tears during the Senior Night ceremonies when he gave him a bear hug prior to tip-off. Brad Underwood made the stand-up move of starting his seniors on Sunday, except for an ill Samson Oladimeji. Tyler Underwood was called for a foul and was responsible for a turnover on an inbound play in his three minutes of play to start the game. Despite two bad plays, the young Underwood totaled two assists in his brief playing time.

@Alec_busse

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