Illinois men’s basketball’s loss to Nebraska was rough


Austin Yattoni

Illinois guard Trent Frazier (1) goes up for a layup during the game against Iowa at State Farm Center on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. The Illini lost in overtime 104-97.

By Tommy Polcyn, Illini Hoops Columnist

Another game, another tough loss. The Illinois men’s basketball team went into Lincoln, Nebraska, on Monday night searching for their first Big Ten win, while also attempting to snap a three-game losing streak. After what looked to be a game-winning four-point play by junior forward Michael Finke, Nebraska’s James Hunter Jr. nailed a go-ahead three of his own with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to deny the Illini their first Big Ten win and extending their losing streak to four.

There’s no denying this was one of the toughest losses in a season that’s been full of them. Three overtime losses, many late breakdowns and now a buzzer-beater in Lincoln, the Illini are sitting at 10-9 and are dead last in the conference.

Despite the loss, there were definitely some big takeaways to look at, so let’s check out some of the bigger developments from Monday’s loss.

Trent Frazier continues hot streak

Trent Frazier is on an absolute tear and it’s amazing that nobody saw this coming at the start of the year. The freshman has been on fire over the last 10 or so games, averaging just over 15 points per game and stepping up in all of the big moments. On Monday he dropped another 19 points, while dishing out five assists and collecting four rebounds.

Underwood has talked about Frazier’s “swagger” all year long, and his performance against the Huskers showed exactly why. He finishes at the rim with ease, has been hitting the three-ball, makes strong passes and is a menace on the defensive end that executes Underwood’s pressure D perfectly. Plus, he’s never scared to step up and take the big shots, leading to a go-ahead assist on Finke’s four-point play.

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Finke steps up

Of all of the upperclassmen, Michael Finke might be having one of the toughest seasons this year. He got a lot of hype going into the season talking about how well he’d do in Underwood’s system, but since the start of Big Ten play, he has really struggled. The shots haven’t fallen, he’s going up against bigger guys in the post and it’s led to a lot of tough defensive possessions on his own end.

But, on Monday, Finke stepped up big and played exactly how the Illini need him to if they expect any real success this season. He was good on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds, while also knocking in 16 points and hitting a huge shot to nearly push the Illini to victory. He looked a lot more confident and comfortable against Nebraska on Monday, and while the Huskers are not that big compared with some of the other teams the Illini have played so far, it’s still an encouraging performance.

Hanging tough

It’s been a common theme all year, but there were times in this game where the Illini continued to dig themselves into holes. But, like most of the other games, they hung in there and did not give up on the game. While this is certainly encouraging and a good sign that the team is resilient and fights ‘til the end, imagine if there were never any 10- or 12-point deficits to make up? Sure, that’s a lot to ask for, but this team could easily be in a much better position than they currently are.

I’ve harped all year about how close this group is to winning a ton of games, but here we are and the Illini are officially 10-9 overall and 0-6 in the Big Ten. It’s frustrating for fans, players and coaches alike. And while Illini fans have been asked to be patient for years and years, it comes in a much different light this time around. Every loss could have been a win this season, just as many of the wins could have been losses. It’s tough, but this team really is right there, and sooner rather than later, they will learn to close these ones out. I have to give credit where it’s due on that Hunter shot, but that would have been a great way to win the first Big Ten game of the year on Monday.

Through it all, Illinois is ready to jump right back into it as they currently prepare for a Friday-night matchup in Wisconsin with the Badgers in what is shaping up to be a better game than many expected. Wisconsin has had struggles of its own, and Underwood’s pressure defense should give the Badger’s guards plenty of trouble. Until then, we can only hope that the Illini will be ready to secure their first Big Ten victory this season before returning home for the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans.


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