5 massive observations from the Illinois basketball win over Duquesne

It has been nearly 20 years, but the Illinois basketball team is heading back to the Sweet 16.
Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Marcus Domask (3) claps after the
Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Marcus Domask (3) claps after the / Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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5. Illinois should always be best friends with the free throw line

This was Illinois’ game from the jump. We started out hitting multiple three-pointers, which got Duquesne in a hole quickly. That is exactly how you beat a team looking for an upset. You let them know that they are inferior talent-wise.

The Illini managed to accomplish this goal early and often. But there were points throughout the game when Illinois started clanking three-pointers off the rim and missing shots. This could have been a great time for the Dukes to go on a run, but Illinois is a smarter team than we were earlier in the season.

When Illinois started missing three-pointers earlier in the year, we would continue forcing shots in the hope the tides were going to turn. On Saturday, instead of continuing to launch three-point attempts and potentially letting Duquesne get some confidence, we went back to driving the ball into the paint.

Getting into the lane and being aggressive toward the basket enabled Illinois to get to the free throw line and get easy points. This thwarted any attempt at a Duquesne comeback, as they went from thinking they had to guard the three-point arc to now having to deal with a bunch of bulldogs coming down the lane and trying to score.

Illinois attempted 17 free throws against the Dukes, which is actually well under our season average of 23.0 free throws per game. But we used the free throw line to our advantage. We didn’t forget about it, and that is important moving forward.

The free throw line needs to be Illinois’ best friend the rest of the way out. Iowa State is going to bring a great defense to the table on Thursday, but as long as we continue to drive and cause contact, we should be able to put points on the board.

Illinois can attack you from so many different areas on the court. The free throw line is one of those areas. Terrence Shannon Jr. was a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe against Duquesne and led the way for the program. I want to see more free throws against the Cyclones, as this is where we need to suffocate a good team like Iowa State.