Once again it was not pretty, but the Illinois basketball team rallied for another victory at home.
The Illini were strong in multiple areas, which they have learned they must be game in and game out. A 17:11 assist to turnover ratio, a plus rebounding margin over the Boilermakers and just 15 personal fouls, below their season average. They shot 48-percent from the field and knocked down seven threes.
With all that, free throw shooting remains a glaring issue. Purdue’s stagnant offense allowed the Illini to grind out a victory, but shooting 9-of-22 from the line will result in a loss most nights in the Big Ten and almost always in a March Madness game.
Below are four statistical takeaways from the Illini’s 8th win.
It is no longer, “Andre Curbelo is going to be a star.” Curbelo is a star, right now.
Out of all Illini players, the second-highest +/- was Coleman Hawkins at +11. Giorgi was +9 and Ayo Dosunmu was +4. The rest of the team finished with negative outputs.
Curbelo finished the game at +26 in 29 minutes, essentially meaning the Illini were dominant when the freshman guard was on the floor. In the 11 minutes he was on the bench, the Illini were torched.
I continue to be a firm believer that Curbelo should remain the sixth man to this point because of the burst he provides, the quick fluctuation of tempo and he’s often attacking the opponent’s bench cast. He told the media he enjoys coming off the bench, which certainly helps the situation.
I think all of Illini Nation is in the commonality that Curbelo’s time as the centerpiece will come. His future oozes with potential for national stardom, but he deserves more recognition right now. His impact on winning basketball is elite, and his ability to create plays for others, operate in multiple tempo’s and collapse defenses with ease are special.
18 Years of Experience
Of the Illini players who played over 10 minutes, they have a combined 18 years of college basketball experience.
Purdue came storming out of the half on a 19-0 run where they took the lead by six points. A three-pointer by Da’Monte Williams, followed by a three from Trent Frazier, flipped the script back in the Illini’s favor and they cruised from there.
The Illini rosters over the last two years would have potentially crumbled after that. However, Dosunmu, Frazier and Williams rallied the troops and continued to run through offensive sets and would eventually get consecutive stops. Weathering the storm is a prerequisite to a Big Ten winning campaign. There is a long way to go but the win over Purdue provides a standard of proof for Coach Brad Underwood.
68% from three
It was somewhat easy to shrug off the numbers for a certain amount of time, but it is time to take Da’Monte Williams’ shooting prowess into serious consideration.
We saw massive signals of shooting improvement towards the end of last season, but this initial 11-game stretch is creating a legitimate trait to lean on for the Illini. Williams’ shot IQ and decision making are impeccable, as he rarely takes a shot that isn’t a great look if there is time on the shot clock.
Williams has made 19 three-point shots from 28 attempts through 11 games. In his initial three seasons, he made a combined 35 threes, just 11.6 per season. Not only is Williams a premium defender who can guard four positions and provides a heightened toughness, but he is an image of the identity Coach Underwood is aiming to build.
Development, constant improvement, grit, hard work and being an everyday guy. The level of consistency from Williams is taking the Illini to new heights, and he will be a model player within the Illini program for the long run.
41% from the line
This one is pretty simple. Missing free throws, especially the front end, is killing this program.
On the season, Illinois has shot a mediocre 68-percent from the free-throw line. That could be worse, but it has also made some games far too close. This was another case of that, as the Illini should have handled Purdue with little to no drama.
Kofi Cockburn was a horrific 0-of-6 from the charity stripe, and while he has improved in the majority of areas, his free throw shooting has regressed 8-percent, down to 59-percent from last season.
Coach Underwood has voiced that Cockburn has been officiated poorly, but he has to make his opportunities count and approach the upper 60-percentile again. The attention to detail and cohesiveness of this rotation is simply too impressive and too strong to not make your free throws. Illinois got away with it against Purdue, but they certainly will not against other Big Ten foes.