Sometimes the ball won’t fall through the net. When Minnesota traveled to Champaign for Thursday’s showdown with No. 19 Illinois, opportunties kept clanking off the rim. During a game filled with shooting valleys, the Gophers and Fighting Illini both shot under 31 percent in the first half. However, when it was needed most, Illinois caught fire. A 13-2 second-half run sparked the Fighting Illini’s 59-51 victory over Minnesota.
Guard Andres Feliz led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds. Center Kofi Cockburn added 13 points and 10 rebounds, including two key free throws in the final minutes. Illinois’ basketball program is surging in its third year under head coach Brad Underwood. The Fighting Illini’s success has been fueled by active team defense and balanced scoring. Underwood has placed his team directly within the Big Ten title race.
The Main Trend
In recent matchups, the Gophers continue to create open looks, but can’t hit shots. Over the past two games, Minnesota is shooting just 17 percent (8-for-47) from behind the arc. The team also isn’t receiving consistent contributions from the backcourt. Guard Payton Willis missed Thursday’s game with a shoulder injury and Gabe Kalscheur is struggling. Kalscheur had just six points on 2-for-11 shooting. Outside of a 34-point outburst against Oklahoma State in December, the sophomore guard hasn’t found any rhythm. The backcourt trio of Kalscheur, Tre’ Williams and Marcus Carr were a combined 7-for-32 (22 percent) from the floor. Illinois neutralized Carr and held the Gophers' top guard to just seven points.
Early in the game, the Gophers played strong team defense and contested the perimeter. During the first ten minutes, Illinois shot just 25 percent (4-for-16) and fought for every open opportunity. On the other end, Carr was agressive and Oturu converted a smooth fadeaway jumper over Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Minnesota forced three quick Illini turnovers, but shots weren’t falling on the other end. Tre’ Williams drove to the rim and ended an 0-for-10 scoring drought in the first half. However, just seconds later, Illinois finally came to life. Guard Trent Frazier drilled back-to-back three-pointers and the Fighting Illini grabbed a 17-11 lead.
In the first half, Minnesota had just one field goal over a span of 12:13. Oturu broke the streak with an off balance three-point play near the rim. A few possessions later, freshman Isaiah Ihnen connected from downtown. While seeing his first extended action of the season, Ihnen displayed upside. He put together a handful of strong defensive sequences, including several deflections. With Willis out, head coach Richard Pitino rotated frequently. Guard Tre’ Williams entered the starting lineup and aggressively attacked the rim. He had five points and showed flashes of potential. Of course, Ihnen and Williams made a few mistakes, but it’s part of giving young players additional minutes. The duo features a tremendous amount of upside and should see rotational action in the future.
After shooting just 31 percent in the first half, Illinois finally caught fire in the final 20 minutes. The Fighting Illini converted six of their first seven second-half shot attempts, including a strong post move by Kofi Cockburn. Underwood adjusted by pushing the tempo and finding his post players. Illinois opened the half on a 13-2 run and extended its lead to 13 points. However, the Gophers quickly responded with a 7-0 run. Carr drilled a three-pointer and beautifully dished to Michael Hurt for an easy basket. A few minutes later, Oturu annihilated Cockburn with a spin move and baseline drive. Illinois went on another 1-for-10 scoring drought and Minnesota closed the gap one final time.
With 3:55 remaining, Kalscheur's first made three-pointer got the Gophers' offense going. Alihan Demir drove to the middle and made a contested layup. On the next possession, Minnesota reversed the ball twice and Oturu barreled down the lane for a tough basket. Oturu was dynamic off the dribble and finished with 20 points. He helped trim Illinois’ lead to one point, but the Gophers couldn’t get any closer.
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Tag(s): Gopher Football