Illinois basketball: Breaking down the Illini loss to Iowa

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 11: Trent Frazier
CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 11: Trent Frazier /

It was close, it was oh so close to the first victory of the Big Ten season for the Illinois basketball team.

But who better to blow a 20 point lead than Illinois, right? Of course, Illinois was unable to put together a full game, and that large lead quickly turned over in the second half. This has been the story of the season for the Illini.

Let’s start with the first half, though. The Illini looked very good in the first half, especially the first 10 minutes of the game. Guys were playing hard, crashing the offensive glass, and getting into passing lanes.

The defensive pressure in the first half was great. The Illini forced 11 Hawkeye turnovers and, although they were slightly undersized, trailed Iowa just 18-12 in the rebounding margin. You could really tell that Brad Underwood had his squad engaged for most of the first half, and the Hawkeyes looked really uncomfortable against the Illinois pressure defense.

At the end of the first half, though, I got a little worried. The Illini seemed to let off of the gas a little the last five minutes or so, something that Brad Underwood has mentioned before. It’s something that even John Groce used to get on his guys for.

At one point, the Illini had a 49-29 lead at around the 4:00 mark. From that point on, really, it was all Iowa. They cut the lead to just 13  at 54-41 going into halftime.

It literally took Iowa just over two minutes into the second half to tie the game up. The Illini had no energy and looked like they had no desire to compete in the second half.

Talk about disappointment. After playing such a phenomenal first half, how do you come out that flat against a team that is struggling mightily?

The Illini’s defense in the second half and overtime was very poor. They were out rebounded 45-26 for the game, which is absolutely ridiculous. Luka Garza was completely dominating the Illini on the glass. There were numerous hustle plays that he won. Just a very inexcusable effort put forth by the Illini.

Not only this, but the Hawkeyes scored on 37 of their last 48 possessions. Yes, you read that right. The Illini were outscored 63-43 in the second half and overtime. The Hawkeyes were able to shoot 50-percent from the field for the game and shot 40 free throws. The Illini had 10 turnovers in the second half and overtime, compared to Iowa’s 6 (Illinois had 4 in the first half).

That’s another thing the Illini couldn’t clean up, foul trouble. Most of their team was in foul trouble, and numerous guys fouled out (Black, Nichols, Alstork, Williams). This excessive fouling has to stop. I really like the aggressive style of defense the Illini play (when they’re engaged) but fouling that much almost eliminates their pressure, as seen in the second half against the Hawkeyes.

All in all, this was one of the most disappointing games I’ve seen in recent years. Just a complete and epic collapse that makes it difficult to be an Illini fan.

Guys like Michael Finke (4 points on 2-of-7 shooting, 4 rebounds), Mark Alstork (3 points), and Mark Smith (2 points) failed to show up. Finke has really played awful in conference play. It is time to consider eliminating a lot of his minutes and giving Greg Eboigbodin more time.

Eboigbodin was one of the sparks once again, as he had 8 points and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes of play. I am really liking what I am seeing from him lately.

Aaron Jordan had a solid game (18 points), as did Leron Black (18 points). The thing that concerns me about Black’s performance is, he only had 3 rebounds and played just 18 minutes. The Illini need him to be on the floor and not in foul trouble, and they need him to dominate the boards more. Three rebounds by your veteran leader is not going to cut it.

Trent Frazier played out of his mind in this game, scoring 27 points including the buzzer-beating three to force overtime. He was very efficient from deep, shooting 7-of-11 from the field. He is really starting to show why he is an elite player.

Next: 5 takeaways from the Illini loss to Iowa

Brad Underwood still has some work to do, but there is still much time in his tenure. The Illini really need to get a win in the next week to try and instill that winning culture into the player’s heads. Expect the Illini to bounce back soon.