Grades and takeaways: Illinois defeats Northwestern 75-71

Junior+Trent+Frazier+reacts+to+a+foul+call+during+No.+24+Illinois%27+game+against+Northwestern+on+Saturday.+The+Illini+won+75-71+and+improve+to+5-2+in+the+Big+Ten+and+13-5+overall.+

Junior Trent Frazier reacts to a foul call during No. 24 Illinois' game against Northwestern on Saturday. The Illini won 75-71 and improve to 5-2 in the Big Ten and 13-5 overall.

By Alec Busse, Staff Writer

No. 24 Illinois came into Saturday with the second-highest defensive efficiency rating in the Big Ten, but the offense is what carried them to a win 75-71 win over Big Ten basement-dweller Northwestern. Illinois had five players finish in double digits in points and as a team shot 50% from the field. The first time Illinois has shot at least 50% from the field since the North Carolina A&T game on Dec. 29 to close-out non-conference play. 

Trent Frazier: A

Trent Frazier came out and his first shot of the game a three from the corner, and that shot set the tone for the rest of the game for the junior point guard.

Frazier led Illinois with 16 points and reached the 1,000-career-point mark in the first half. Frazier finished with three assists on the day, but he did a great job of finding the open man on the offense, which set up his teammates to score the basketball. Even more impressive than his 16 points, and high-level passing is that Frazier has now gone six straight games without a turnover, something sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili called “unbelievable.”

Fraizer has taken a stronghold on being more ball-dominant over the last couple of games, and his shot is starting to fall. 

Ayo Dosunmu: A

Over the last nine games, Ayo Dosunmu averaged 15.9 points-per-game with six of those games being Big Ten contest. It’s not just Dosunmu’s scoring ability that’s seen an uptick in recent games, but his confidence in “winning time” and passing have increased as well.

Dosumu was key in the last three minutes against Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Northwestern. The sophomore hit a big jumper on the wing to give Illinois a five-point lead with just 18 seconds left and then responded with making both free throws in a one-and-one with just six seconds left. At the nine-minute mark in the second-half, Dosunmu found Andres Feliz for a three as the shot clock expired to give Illinois a five-point lead. The very next possession Dosunmu found Bezhansishvili for a dunk on a pick-and-roll for his sixth assist of the game.

Underwood said Dosunmu is going to do what “he does” in closing time, and over the last three games that’s been clutch. 

Da’Monte Williams: B

This grade may seem a bit generous if you just look at Williams’ stat sheet. However, he was impressive defensively, grabbed two crucial rebounds, and had two momentum-swinging blocks in the second half. Games like these are when Wiliams’ true value shows up the most, and it is important for Illinois to not take solid games like these for granted. 

Giorgi Bezhanishvili: A

This was sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s best game of the season on the offensive end. The sophomore finished with 13 points, six of which came off baseline jumpers. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said making jumpers like that extend the defense and create angles for cuts.

Bezhanishvili was a spark plug in the second half providing energy down the stretch on the defensive end, especially when he got a big block at the 5:26 mark in the second half, which brought the Illini faithful to their feet. 

Kofi Cockburn: B

The star freshman center looked to come out flat, especially when he had just one point and no rebounds when the first media timeout came at the 13:03 mark in the first half. However, Cockburn still finished with a solid 12 points and seven rebounds.

It isn’t really fair, but Cockburn is graded on a curve because of how successful he has been this season against some of the Big Ten’s premier talent at the center position like Jon Teske. Cockburn missed a couple of opportunities around the rim when he brought and entry pass to his waist allowing the defense to swipe at it, this is something Cockburn can’t do and something he needs to improve on. 

Alan Griffin: B-

This is probably generous, but sophomore Alan Griffin had three big rebounds, one of which was offensive and Illinois capitalized on it. The unbelievable scoring stretch Griffin had between the Old Dominion and Wisconsin games when he averaged 14.3 points may have passed, but he’s still active on the glass and his defense has been good enough to earn consistent minutes off the bench, where he gives Illinois’ a spark, scoring potential, and consistent rebounding. 

Kipper Nichols: B+

Senior Kipper Nichols has carved out a role on this team and it is a very important one. Nichols has given Underwood consistent defensive production off the bench and is making his open shots, especially around the rim. Nichols finished 3-5 from the field with six points. The senior is showing confidence and poise in his 10+ minutes of action each time he takes the floor. 

Andrés Feliz: A-

Andrés Feliz finished with quiet 10 points, but he did snag five rebounds and had two assists. Feliz finished a positive three in the plus-minus, but he brought leadership and calmness to the team when they needed it down the stretch in a close game. He got a little out of control on a transition layup, but he drew the foul and hit two big free throws with just 1:29 left in the game.

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