Notes, player grades: Illinois men’s basketball pulls away late to top Michigan at home

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Trent Frazier attempts a 3-pointer during No. 25 Illinois men’s basketball’s game against Michigan at State Farm Center on Friday night. Frazier’s 16 second-half points were key in the Illini’s 68-53 win over the Wolverines.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

Illinois and Michigan don’t like each other. At all. Despite the Wolverines’ slow start to the season and playing without star big-man Hunter Dickinson, both fan bases had been excitedly waiting for Friday’s matchup all week. And for 35 minutes, it was a good one. 

The first 20 minutes of the game were very close, as a low-scoring first half ended with Illinois leading 26-22. The next 13 minutes were the same, as the Illini led by just 1, but a Kofi Cockburn dunk began a 14-4 run that included good all-around play by Trent Frazier, and Illinois won the game, 68-53.

Like Illinois’ contest earlier in the week against Nebraska, the final score doesn’t show how close the game really was. Even without facing off against Dickinson, Kofi wasn’t able to totally dominate the way he has in other games this season, but it was once again Frazier’s late-game heroics that led Illinois to its sixth straight win and a 6-0 Big Ten record.

D-d-d-defense 

As you may hear from a crowd when the team they’re cheering for is on defense, the Illini crowd loved the defense their team played against the Wolverines. Hunter Dickinson is one of Michigan’s best scorers, but he had struggled against Cockburn in the past, and the Illini made it really hard for the Wolverines to score all around.

Guard DeVante’ Jones’ led his team with 17 points, but no other Wolverine reached double figures in scoring. Michigan made just one three on ten attempts and shot 36.7% from the field on the night.

Brad Underwood is a defensive-minded guy, so to see his team playing defense at such a high-level is encouraging. There will be games in March when Illinois isn’t shooting the ball like it’s used to, so good defense will give the Illini a chance to keep the game close, and it paid off Friday against a conference rival.

Late-game Trent

What a year the fifth-year senior is having. For the second straight game, Frazier’s play late in the second half helped his team pull away for a victory. 

Trent finished the night with 18 points, with 13 of them coming in the final 6:01 of game time. He was able to score inside and out, hit clutch free throws and also pass the ball well, finishing the night with a game-high seven assists.

Even after not scoring well in the first half, Frazier played well when his team needed it most and once again led his team to a double-digit victory in a game that was close for the first 35 minutes. Every team needs someone like Trent, and he’s making his fifth and final season as an Illini one to remember.

Time for some grades.

Kofi Cockburn: A-

With Hunter Dickinson out, fans probably expected Kofi to have a field day. That did not happen, but the big man still played a good game, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds, both game-highs. 

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard had a plan as to how to defend Kofi, bringing a guy in front of him and showing a double-team even before he caught it. That did lead to three turnovers by Kofi,  but even so, Cockburn shot 8-13 from the field and knocked down five of his seven free-throw attempts.

It wasn’t his greatest night, but when 21 points and your ninth-straight double-double doesn’t earn you an “A+”, that shows just how good you are. Another solid night for the best big man in college basketball.

Trent Frazier: A-

Trent’s late-game heroics were awesome, along with his great passing he portrayed the whole night, but his first 34 minutes weren’t all that good.

Frazier only shot 5-11 from the field and 2-8 from three on Friday while also committing three turnovers. Not being able to get going early was probably one of the reasons the game was as close as it was before the Illini broke ahead.

But boy did he make up for it. When Frazier gets hot, the State Farm Center is at its loudest. That, combined with his defense that disrupts opposing guards so much, is what makes him such a great player, and Trent once again lifted his team to a win. 

Jacob Grandison: B-

Jake played well, shooting an efficient 2-5 from three and adding in three rebounds. He did his job.

Grandison hasn’t been scoring lately the way he did earlier in the season, but he earned the opposite team’s respect and is now getting guarded harder. That being said, he’s playing his role nicely and is hitting key shots.

Grandison plays nice defense as well, so though he isn’t scoring on the levels of some of his teammates, he’s still super important. He could work on creating his own show better and not only shooting threes, which he did Friday, but it was still another nice game for him.

Alfonso Plummer: B

Even when he’s not shooting super well, Plummer will always be able to give you some much-needed points. He finished with 15 of them against Michigan but shot 5-12 from the field and 1-5 from beyond the arc. 

Even without hitting the three, Plummer is scoring well because his game inside the arc has improved so much. He also is one of the best free-throw shooters in the country, shooting 4-4 on the night and is 98% on the year.

Plummer’s defense could use some more improvement, but every team needs scoring, and that’s what Plummer brings, day in and day out. When he’s hot from three, which he hasn’t been lately, he can score as good as anyone.

Da’Monte Williams: C+

The best part of Da’Monte’s game is his defense, which he did very well on Friday night. Williams was tasked with covering talented freshman Caleb Houstan and held the five-star recruit to just five points on 2-9 shooting. 

But Williams committed three turnovers and struggled when handling pressure with the ball. He also shot 2-6 from the field and finished with five points, still struggling to score the ball like he did last season.

He did hit a late three that extended Illinois’ lead and helped put the game away. His skills while handling the ball need to improve, because smart teams will pressure him and try to force turnovers like Michigan did Friday night.

Coleman Hawkins: C-

Hawkins was the only non-starter to play double-digit minutes — he played 26 — but for the most part didn’t make a huge impact.

His only point came on a free throw, and he also finished the night with a singular rebound, assist, steal, block and turnover. It’s not every day you see a 1-1-1-1-1-1 stat line. 

Hawkins did play solid defense, bothering Michigan’s forwards and preventing them from scoring. Coleman did a whole lot of talking before Friday’s matchup, but he didn’t put up the stats to back up his words.

Omar Payne: B+

He only played seven minutes, but Payne did his job. He made his two free-throw attempts and recorded three boards while playing good defense. 

That’s all that Illinois needed Friday from the Florida transfer, so Underwood and crew should be more than satisfied from what they saw.

Final note

Illinois got the job done in another ugly game. It wasn’t very fun, per say, until the final six-ish minutes, and there are areas of concern still.

Michigan played a whole lot harder than Illinois did, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and winning a lot of 50/50 balls. The Wolverines also played effective defense, limiting the Illini to 68 points, their lowest total since their loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 22.

However, good teams win when they don’t play well, and Illinois did so by double digits. Without Andre Curbelo, they’re only about 6.5 guys deep, too, so conditioning will be important moving forward assuming we don’t see Curbelo back for a while. 

@JPietsch14

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