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Illinois men’s basketball narrowly maintains lead over UT Martin

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Illinois forward Leron Black (12) puts up a floater during the game against the University of Tennessee at Martin at the State Farm Center on Sunday.

Illinois forward Leron Black (12) puts up a floater during the game against the University of Tennessee at Martin at the State Farm Center on Sunday.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois forward Leron Black (12) puts up a floater during the game against the University of Tennessee at Martin at the State Farm Center on Sunday.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Redshirt junior forward Leron Black set the tone early when he scored the first four points of the game against the University of Tennessee at Martin on a pair of mid-range jump shots. Illinois secured a comfortable lead late in the second half until encountering issues with UT Martin’s full-court pressure.

Illinois (2-0) defeated UT Martin (0-2) 77-74 in a game that lacked the same energy found in Friday’s home-opening win over Southern University, partly due to the absence of the pep band, which could not attend because of the Marching Illini’s annual concert.

The Skyhawks trailed for the majority of the game; however, they went on a 9-1 run to cut the Illini lead to three with 38 seconds left in the game. Illinois led by 16 points with 3:48 remaining.

UT Martin’s zone defense and late adjustment to a full-court press forced 18 Illinois turnovers.

“I think we just played scared,” said redshirt junior Michael Finke. “Their press really got to us, and we turned over the ball a little too much.”

The Illini had the chance to secure a victory on the offensive end the following possession, but Black was unable to convert two opportunities close to the basket with time winding down on the shot clock The ensuing loose ball rolled out to UT Martin’s Matthew Butler, who scooped it up and shot a deep three-pointer. The three-point attempt would bounce off the back rim before landing out of bounds off an Illinois player.

After review, an additional 0.2 seconds were added to the clock. Butler hoisted another three-point attempt, which would land well short of the hoop.

Black, a Memphis native, led all scorers with a career-high 23 points, while also bringing down a game-high eight rebounds against a few familiar faces on the opposing side.

“It was a good feeling getting to play so many people from my AAU team and hometown,” Black said.

Illinois struggled for much of the first half but still led UT Martin 25-22 with 5:50 left in the first half. UT Martin established an inside presence early, scoring 12 of its first 22 points in the paint.

The Skyhawks finished with four more points in the paint than the Illini and scored 34 in total. Eight of which came off second-chance opportunities.

Illinois caught fire to close off the first half, going on a 19-7 run in the final five minutes and 50 seconds, and it was a lead the team would just barely fail to relinquish.

The Illini made 10 of their last 12 field goals to take a 44-29 lead at halftime.

This run started with a Finke three-pointer from the right corner, followed by a contested Trent Frazier step back three-pointer from the top of the key. The scoring continued with a Frazier Euro step layup in transition and a three-pointer from junior Aaron Jordan.

Black later had a steal in the backcourt, in which he successfully got to the hoop with a behind-the-back dribble before rolling in a contested layup.

“I was actually very pleased with the end of the first half,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “I thought we were active and flying around.”

UT Martin kept it close early in the second half. The Skyhawks cut the lead to four at the 13:20 mark on a three-pointer from Butler during a 14-0 run to start the half.

The back-and-forth action continued throughout the second half as the Skyhawks kept it competitive, yet would never further close the deficit until there was less than a minute left.

Delfincko Bogan, a 5-foot-10-inch junior guard for UT Martin led all scorers with 23 points. He shot an efficient nine of 15 from the field and three of five from three-point range.

The Illini shot just under 45 percent from the field and finished six of 21 from the three-point line.

Fifth-year transfer Mark Alstork, who scored 17 points and brought down 10 rebounds Friday night, played limited minutes in the first half after recording a quick second personal foul with just over 10 minutes before the intermission.

Illinois was unable to continue Friday’s trend of strong free-throw shooting with 34-37 from the line. The team went 19-27 in the victory over UT Martin.

“In the second half, we saw a little resistance, and that was bothersome, but we’ll get it corrected,” Underwood said.

Illinois has a week of practice to prepare for Friday’s game against in-state rival DePaul, which is the first meeting for the teams since 1957.

@WillGerard10

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1 Comment

  • Rf Woody Gollay

    A W is a W! You don’t play your best and you play to your opponent- usually that spells disaster. The competition will get tougher and you continue to play to your competition- that high caliber clash will get the cream to rise to the top. Have confidence in the coaching staff- then play like you belong there! The student body, community and the alumni will all be in your corner. Who’s a MAN? Just show us….