Shooting struggles continue in Illinois men’s basketball’s 79-74 win over Michigan State

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Cameron Krasucki

Graduate student forward Jacob Grandison looks up for teammates during Illinois’ 80-67 win over Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Feb. 2. Grandison scored 24 point in the Illini’s win over the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday, though he and Trent Frazier registered the team’s only 3-pointers in the win.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

No. 12 Illinois continued to struggle from the 3-point line in their win at No. 19 Michigan St. on Saturday. The Illini shot under 30% from behind the arc for the second game in a row and just the sixth time this season.

Only two Illini made any threes against the Spartans (18-8, 9-6): Jacob Grandison and Trent Frazier. Frazier equaled his season average of 12 points per game, connecting on two of seven 3-point attempts in the process. Grandison was on fire, and he made a career-high six threes in 10 attempts and scored a season-high 24 points.

“Jacob Grandison is a guy that I trust more than anything. He was in the gym 3 o’clock the other night after coming back from Rutgers,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “Really good things happen to you when you tackle adversity and you come out on the other side of it.”

Grandison had been in a mini slump, shooting four of 17 from behind the arc in the last four games. His six threes on Saturday were just one shy of the amount he’s made in Illinois’ last five games combined.

Alfonso Plummer, Da’Monte Williams, R.J. Melendez, Coleman Hakwins and Andre Curbelo shot a combined 0-9 from three. Melendez was the only player who attempted a field goal and did not make one.

Plummer has officially entered a slump. He missed all three deep balls he attempted against Michigan State after shooting 0-4 against Rutgers a few days earlier. Underwood said Plummer got up shots, along with Grandison, late after the Rutgers game. He didn’t get the same results.

With just four games left in the regular season, Illinois (19-7, 12-4) chose a bad time to get cold. The Illini matched up well with the Spartans due to Michigan State’s lack of size, allowing Kofi Cockburn to pound his way to 27 points and nine rebounds. This, paired with a supernova type of explosion from Grandison, kept the Spartans from beating the Illini.

When Illinois and Michigan State last met, Cockburn didn’t play and as a result, the game was a nail-biter. The Illini are still looking for consistent scoring outside of Cockburn, and if they’re going to make a deep tournament run, they’ll need someone to be more than a hot hand.

“We can draw up Xs and Os; you could all draw up Xs and Os to get Kofi a basket. It’s the truth,” Underwood said.  “The reality is it’s all about the other stuff. They’ve got to want to fight and play for each other, and that’s what I challenged them with.”

Despite the off shooting night, Frazier came up big late as he has several other times this season. With just over 20 seconds in the game and the Illini up two, Frazier pulled a deep dagger three early in the shot clock, icing the game.

“He went about 13 seconds too early. The play was an option for him and Kofi, and he just went early,” Underwood said, “Then all of a sudden we’ve got Jake on the wrong side of the floor, and all of a sudden everyone’s looking at me, and Trent just jumps up and shoots it.” 

Frazier is Illinois’ best candidate to fill the scoring need that will arise in the postseason. He is a dangerous, if streaky, three-level scorer and quick-thinking playmaker. He’s not as cerebral and creative as Curbelo, but he makes good passes. ESPN’s Jay Bilas compared his rhythm to former NBA star Jamal Crawford.

“The best thing about Trent is that nothing that happens ever bothers him, good or bad. It’s very nice to have a guy like that on your team,” Underwood said.

That quality will come in handy in March, but Underwood wants to see more of it now as well.

“It’s just a mentality, and the mentality is ‘It’s February. It’s hard. It’s tough. Nothing’s easy,’” Underwood said. “Just staying connected is the biggest part of that, and learning to fight for who we are and not our individual selves.”

 

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