Notes, player grades: Shorthanded Illinois men’s basketball tops Michigan State in down-to-wire finish

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Sydney Laput

Freshman guard Luke Goode dribbles the ball while looking to teammate senior guard Trent Frazier during Illinois men’s basketball’s 56-55 win over Michigan State at State Farm Center on Tuesday. Goode played his best game in an Illini uniform in the one-point win.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

Shortly before Tuesday night’s contest against the Michigan State Spartans, Illinois announced it would be without both Kofi Cockburn (concussion protocol) and Andre Curbelo (health and safety protocol) to face the 10th-ranked team in the country. But it didn’t matter.

Behind an impressive defensive effort in a nerve-wracking ending, the Illini came out on top, winning the game, 56-55.

Trent Frazier was hot early, and Illinois was able to jump out to a double-digit first-half lead, ultimately performing what some call a “Tony Bennett,” holding a team to 20 points or less in a half, and led at the break, 34-20. But the team couldn’t get it going after that.

Illinois scored just 22 second-half points, including none in the final 5:32. The Spartans shot just 34.5% from the field on the night, and the Illini held five-star freshman Max Christie to just two points, forcing tough shots all game.

Spartan forward Malik Hall went to the line with 0.2 seconds left while down two points to try and tie the game, but his first free throw rimmed out, and the Illini hung on to win. 

Defense wins championships

Like I said, Illinois struggled mightily on offense in the second half, but it still came up with an upset win without Cockburn and Curbelo, because of defense.

The Illini put together two solid halves of defense, allowed just three 3-pointers on 14 attempts and disrupted the Spartan’s rhythm consistently. Illinois was even in foul trouble early in the second half, but it still limited the damage by forcing tough shots.

Spartan forward Gabe Brown is 6-foot-8 and is having a very good year, averaging 13.6 points per game, and is the type of player that has killed Illinois this year and in the past. Da’Monte Williams led the defensive effort in holding him to 10 points on 4-9 shooting. 

To win against a top-10 team without two important players is an accomplishment to be excited about, and it wouldn’t have happened without the tough, gritty defense that Brad Underwood’s team showed against the Spartans. 

The story of the night was the defense, so let’s get into some grades.

Omar Payne/Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk: B+

I’ve never done a combo grade before, but without Kofi Cockburn I thought it would be fun to give his replacement a grade together. Plus, it’s a good one.

Payne and BBV combined for 35 minutes, 15 points, six rebounds and an assist. BBV was 4-7 from the field, and Payne was 3-3, including an alley-oop slam and an and-one layup. 

Both big men got into foul trouble, especially early in the second half, which allowed Michigan State to enter the bonus with over 15 minutes left in the second half. Both also struggled at times on Spartan big man Marcus Bingham Jr., who scored a team-high 13 points. 

Still, I really liked what I saw from BBV and Payne, especially offensively. It was a low-scoring night for the Illini, so to get 15 points out of two non-scorers was a nice surprise in a hard-fought victory. 

Trent Frazier: B

After scoring 10 first-half points and helping his team to a double-digit lead at the break, Frazier was only able to score six second-half points — on bad shooting — and missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw that could have sealed the game.

Despite shooting 6-15 from the field and 2-10 from three, Trent still scored when the team really needed him to. He was the spark that led to a nice first-half scoring performance, and early in the second half he made two driving layups when Illinois really needed to get things going.

Of course, Trent played well defensively, covering Christie throughout parts of the game and helping limit him to just two points. Even when he doesn’t shoot well, Trent makes a huge difference and is slowly starting to get the national attention he deserves.

Jacob Grandison: D

Another tough night for him. Grandison made two buckets in the first half but missed a lot of threes en route to an inefficient five-point night. 

Grandison shot 1-7 from 3-point range and didn’t stop shooting the ball in the second half despite going cold, and at times he put up the three with a hand in his face. Not a recipe for success when you’re on a cold streak.

The defense wasn’t bad, and Grandison did grab three boards, so he isn’t getting too low of a grade. However, the Illini will need more from him offensively soon, because it isn’t often you win games by scoring just 56 points.

Luke Goode: A

The highest grade of the night goes to the only freshman to get minutes, because he played his best collegiate game Tuesday night.

Goode scored nine points, all on 3-pointers, and was also great on defense. He had two first-half threes, and his step-back three in the second half had State Farm Center going crazy.

In crunch time, Underwood had Goode on the floor, and he played hard defense on multiple guys and got two big boards late to help stop key Michigan State possessions. Goode is a natural leader, great shooter and could be very good for Illinois in the coming years. 

Coleman Hawkins: D-

Not a night to remember for Coleman. In 12 minutes, he only took one shot, which he missed, and grabbed two boards. He was put in for defense, but he also didn’t help stop Michigan State down the stretch.

On the final Spartan possession when they were down two with the ball after Frazier missed a free throw, Hawkins was the one who fouled Malik Hall to send him to the line to potentially tie the game, but Hall couldn’t get it done.

Hawkins was in the starting lineup to begin the season and had a lot of hype surrounding his name, but he hasn’t been able to find his groove in nearly any competitive games this year. Hopefully he finds a way to get it together, because Illinois could need him on both sides of the ball later in the season.

Alfonso Plummer: B

Plummer struggled to get his groove going early in the game, scoring five first-half points but not very efficiently. However, that changed in the latter part of the game. 

He hit two big threes in the middle of the second half to extend Illinois’ lead, providing two big shots while the offense was struggling. He ended up shooting 4-11 from the field and 3-7 from three.

His defense was just OK, which is about what you can expect from Plummer, but it didn’t end up costing his team. Good game from Plummer on a night when he didn’t shoot his best, but he was able to heat up when it mattered.

Da’Monte Williams: B

He gave absolutely nothing offensively, so I’m not giving him an A, but his defensive effort was great. 

Williams helped cover Gabe Brown, who is five inches taller than him, and forced tough shots despite being undersized. Illinois needed someone to step up defensively against the forward, and Da’Monte did just that.

He grabbed four rebounds on the night and had one assist while missing the three shots he attempted. Two of them were bad shots. Still, the ultimate glue guy fought on defense and helped his team get a win. 

Final note

Very impressive win over a top-10 team, especially without Cockburn, a National Player of the Year candidate, and Curbelo, a crafty guard. The win moved Illinois back into first place in the conference.

Lots of credit to Brad Underwood and crew to prepare the team while shorthanded. I’ll always give Spartan head coach Tom Izzo praise, so to defeat one of his teams while missing key pieces is a big deal in my book. Well done.

@JPietsch14 

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