The Fighting Illini have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 30 times since the program was founded in 1906. Nine years after their start, Illinois won their first Big Ten title after going 16-0. But over 100 years later, this season, they’re not doing as well. After losing to the Michigan State Spartans on January 2, 2020, they’re 12th in the Big Ten conference.
During that game, the arena was packed with 100% capacity. The Spartans started out hot taking a 11-2 lead within the first four minutes, but Illinois managed a comeback. Right before halftime, Alan Griffin brought the score to 35-30. Due to a controversy, the Spartans made another point, leaving for the locker room 36-30. In the second half, Michigan pulled further ahead, ending the game at 76-56.
Illinois had a 29.3 FG % while Michigan was 43.3%. They made 10.7% of their 3PT, whereas Michigan made 31.8%, and Michigan made 10.8% more FTs. So clearly, Illinois had a bad shooting game.
So far this season, Illinois’ top players average 47.1 FG %. But they weren’t close to that this game. Dosunmu only made 8/20 FG and 2/3 free throws. Normally, he makes 48.1% of his FG and 76.3% of his free throws. And he was one of the stronger players that night. He disappointed fans when he went 0-3 from the three-point range.
Eleven of their players that night went 9-46 shooting from the field combined. That’s a low 19.5%. Ayo and Griffin combined made a 44.8 shooting percent, which if the whole team did the same, Illini would win games. But those 11 players held the team down. Da’Monte Williams finished the game with 0 points, one rebound, one assist, and one turnover. He was 0-3. Now, compare that to Griffin’s 17 points, nine rebounds, one assist, and one steal. The gap of skill between the strong and weak players was too large to result in an Illini win.
But it’s not all about the offense. MSU has a stronger defense. They had 3x the blocks and 37 defensive rebounds. UIUC only had three blocks and 28 defense rebounds. Illini’s Cockburn, Bezhanishvili, Frazier, and Feliz barely made 19 points together, but Bezhanishvili had the highest completion percentage out of those players. He made 25% of his FGs.
During the first half, Illinois was 0-11 for threes. Offensively, Illinois was a mess. Next up, Illinois plays Purdue at home. The Boilermakers don’t have the best record, but they are a top 50 team. Their defense is elite, and against Illinois’ struggling offense, Purdue is bound to win. Maybe Illinois is in a funk and will escape it in time for the game on Sunday, January 5, 2020.
Catch the first half highlights below.