Heat Checks and Hail Marys - Illini Defeat #10 MSU sans Cockburn & Curbelo

Mike Cagley, IlliniGuy

January 26, 2022

Illinois basketball coaches (L-R) Tim Anderson, Chester Frazier, Geoff Alexander, and Brad Underwood courtesy Joe Clark, IlliniGuys.

The Illini needed every point of their 15-point lead over the Michigan State Spartans. In a game largely defined by the Illini defense, timely Illini 3-point shooting and numerous foul calls on the Illini bigs, the Illini managed to hang on for a 56-55 victory over the Spartans who surged in the second half.

It is extremely unusual for the winning team to not score during the last 5:32 seconds of the game. A win like this can only happen when the Illini are this uber-focused on the defensive end. The Spartans were held to 34.5% shooting from the field and a horrific 21.4% from the three-point line. This defense handcuffed the Spartans to an extent that the Illini shot under 50% from the free throw line still won the game. This is the six straight time, dating back to the start of the 2020 calendar year, that the Illini have won a game while shooting this poorly from the free throw line. As Coach Underwood has said defense travels. It also works at home, too.

The win tonight over the #10 Spartans raises the Illini's record to 9-4 against Top 10 teams over the last 3 years. For the first time this season, the Illini won a game with the team was outrebounded. The Illini are now 1-4 in such games.

With this win, the Illini are now the winningest team over the last three B1G seasons with a 36-13 record (.735) record. Illinois is 21-3 in its last 24 games against B1G opponents.

Heat Check #1 - Trent Frazier is Amazing

Trent Frazier courtesy Joe Clark, IlliniGuys

Despite being dinged up physically and being the focus of the formidable Spartan defense, Trent Frazier managed to lead both teams in scoring. He struggled through a tough night at the three-point line going 2-10. He managed to 4-5 from inside the arc scoring many times exactly when the Illini needed him to do so. Frazier also led the team with 5 assists and had 3 rebounds against Michigan State.

He also keyed an amazing Illini defensive effort that found him in the midst of the Illini defense that held Michigan State to 19-55 from the field overall and 3-14 from the three-point line. Ask highly touted freshman Max Christie ended up with 2 points on 1-8 shooting - thanks in large part to Trent Frazier. Despite a massive rebounding margin in favor of the visiting team (41-27), the Illini defense held the Spartans to 11 second chance points. That statistic could've been worse and if it had been, the Illini would be looking at a three-game losing streak.

Frazier's 16 points vaulted him past Mark Smith and Brandon Paul to #9 on the all-time leading scorer list for the Illini. He's not done with the Illini record book and next up is Eddie Johnson at #8.

Additionally, Frazier is moving up the ranks in a number of statistics. He is now 2nd in games played, 3rd in three-pointers, 6th in steals, 6th in minutes, and 9th in points. Trent has been here for the full first five years of the Underwood era. Along with Ayo and Kofi, Trent has been a building block of the resurgently relevant Illini basketball program. Enjoy Frazier as the Illini will miss his heroics on both ends of the court when he's moved on.

Heat Checks #2 - Luke Goode Played Well

Luke Goode courtesy Joe Clark, IlliniGuys

A lot of fans have been pushing to see more playing time for the three freshmen - Goode, Podziemski, and Melendez. Tonight, the fans got exactly what they wanted. With Kofi Cockburn out with a concussion and Andre Curbelo not playing due to health protocols, there were minutes to be had. Luke Goode earned a shot. With his play tonight, he will probably get more time as the season progresses.

Goode played solid defense as he helped key the Illini defense that shut down the Spartans in the first half limiting them to 20 points. The freshmen drew duty against Joey Hauser and even Marcus Bingham, Jr. (As an aside, I love Bingham's game and think he is guy that I'd play more than Izzo does - which really means my idea wouldn't work well). Goode's defense was strong despite playing against such talented players. Even if he didn't have optimum position, he made sure to contest each and every shot.

To demonstrate what type of player Goode is, simply take a look at the game tape. Soon after he got in the game, an offensive set wasn't being run correctly. Goode instructed BBV (who was on the right side of the court, while Goode was on the left wing) where to go and what to do. This is a freshman. This is a freshman in a big game in front of a crazy home crowd. This is a freshman in a big game in front of a crazy home crowd against the #10 team in the country - and he's displaying advanced leadership skills. Goode brings more than just size, talent and heart to the game.

And of course, Goode went 3-4 from the 3-point line, scoring 9 points with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. We all saw his smooth shot. When he's hitting like that, it's much easier for post players to operate as he stretches the defense. A stretched defense has to cover more space and that means there are lanes for driving and lanes for passing into the paint. If Goode keeps that up, along with the threes shot by Frazier, Plummer, Grandison and Williams, the Illini are an even more dangerous offensive team.

Heat Check #3 - Bosmans-Verdonk and Payne Combo Performed Admirably

If you add up the totals for Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Omar Payne, you may not have a Kofi Cockburn - but you have a combo who could ease the burden when Kofi gets tired or in foul trouble. They should now have the total confidence that together they can fill in for the Illini All-American. Note that they can't replace, no one can do that, but they can help the Illini make it through part of a game, a game or a couple of games if needed.

The duo ended up with 15 points on 7-10 shooting and 1-2 from the free throw line. The duo had 6 rebounds including 2 offensive rebounds. They also had 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 blocks with 1 turnover. They did it against the #10 team in the country. It is nice to know that the center position is no longer a total mess when Kofi goes out of the game. The Illini are evolving into a much tougher team to beat as Payne and Bosmans-Verdonk continue to improve and build their confidence to higher levels.

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk courtesy Joe Clark, IlliniGuys

Omar Payne courtesy Joe Clark, IlliniGuys

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