LIVE! Rutgers

LIVE! Rutgers

CHAMPAIGN — Giorgi Bezhanishvili set Illinois' freshman scoring record with 35 points, and all of them were needed as the Illini fended off Rutgers 99-94 in overtime to extend their winning streak to three games.

Trent Frazier added 17 points for Illinois (9-15, 5-8 Big Ten). Ayo Dosunmu chipped in 12 points, and Aaron Jordan made it four Illini in double figures with 10 in the win. The Illini will return to action Thursday at Ohio State.

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Illinois 86, Rutgers 86 — End of regulation

Even 29 points from Giorgi Bezhanishvili wasn't enough for Illinois to win this one in 40 minutes. Ayo Dosunmu made just 1 of 2 free throws in the final minute, Ron Harper Jr. tied it at 86 on a dribble drive and Dosunmu had a potential winner blocked. So we've got some extra hoops at State Farm Center.

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Illinois 80, Rutgers 77 — 3:20 left in 2nd half

Giorgi Bezhanishvili is 100 percent the reason Illinois has a lead right now. The freshman forward already has a career high 27 points, and most of that's come in the second half where he's 10 of 11 from the field for 21 of those points. He was also getting gassed in the last couple minutes, which prompted (I think) Brad Underwood to call a timeout since there wasn't a natural stoppage in play to get to the final media timeout of the game. A little rest for the Illini big man could be key.

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Illinois 61, Rutgers 60 — 11:50 left in 2nd half

Trent Frazier has 14 points. Ayo Dosunmu has 11. Neither of them are on the court right now. Frazier has three fouls, including two he committed 90 feet from the basket. Dosunmu just picked up his fourth. That's ... not great for Illinois.

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Rutgers 56, Illinois 54 — 14:42 left in 2nd half

Not a particularly clean start to the second half with five turnovers combined between the two teams. Sloppy is probably an accurate description. In terms of things that also aren't good for the Illini, Rutgers has 10 points in the paint this half. That would be 10 of its 11 points. The Scarlet Knights' advantage in that particular statistical category now sits at 34-24.

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Rutgers 45, Illinois 42 — Halftime

There was plenty of discussion yesterday after the Illini's practice about putting Tuesday's win against Michigan State in the rear view mirror and avoiding a letdown this afternoon against Rutgers. So far? Mission not accomplished. Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier have nine points apiece, but Illinois has both struggled defensively and given Rutgers some easy looks and really not run a lot of great offense other than what it's gotten in transition.

The Scarlet Knights have also made some tough shots. The result is a three-point halftime deficit for a team that jumped all over a much better Michigan State team in the first half earlier this week and didn't replicate much of that at all so far today.

To the Twitter machine! (Isn't nearly as fatalistic as I expected)

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Illinois 37, Rutgers 35 — 3:53 left in 1st half

Some quick hit type notes to take us into the halftime update ...

— Rutgers is now shooting 60.9 percent. Not ideal.

— Long stretch without Trent Frazier for Illinois. Not foul trouble (he doesn't have any) but Brad Underwood was not overly thrilled with him defensively for a moment.

— Frazier, though, still leads Illini with nine points.

— Eight turnovers by Rutgers has yielded 11 points for Illinois.

— Rutgers' Caleb McConnell has a game-high 11 points so far. 

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Illinois 28, Rutgers 23 — 7:39 left in 1st half

It's been a game of mini runs so far. Rutgers went on a 9-0 scoring burst to take its only lead of the game at 19-17 about three minutes ago. Illinois has answered by making four of its last five shots as part of an 11-4 run. Brad Underwood would still like to see better defense from his team. The latest missive from the bench: "How soft can we be on the ball?" Rutgers IS shooting 52.6 percent. 

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Illinois 17, Rutgers 14 — 11:41 left in 1st half

Pretty good transition offense for Illinois so far. The Illini have seven fast break points, and four of those were dunks by Ayo Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan. The dunk floodgates have opened for Illinois. Brad Underwood, though, would like to see his team run a little more offense. He said as much. And he'd probably like to see the Illini stop Rutgers a little more. The Scarlet Knights aren't going away easily in the early going.

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Illinois 10, Rutgers 7 — 15:25 left in 1st half

Some good things for Illinois in the early going, with Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier doing all the scoring. Frazier has already hit two three-pointers. His first was something. He passed up an open look, crossed over his defender and then hit a stepback anyway. Dosunmu also dunked — his second of the year and second this week. 

Illinois jumped out to a 7-0 lead behind its two guards, but Rutgers answered by making three straight shots to tie the game. Another Frazier three put the Illini back on top.

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Illinois vs. Rutgers — 3 p.m., BTN

Adonis De La Rosa has been around the block a time or two. The 24-year-old is the oldest Illini and on his fourth team. He likes what he's seen from his last team in the past couple weeks.

"It’s just a growth process," De La Rosa said. "In the beginning of the year we were still young — still young now — but the maturity has grown and a lot of dudes know their role and know what we have to do to be successful. Dudes are just buying into that, and as you can see with our play we’ve just been clicking.

"Just knowing dudes are fighting out there and just keep pushing through, that right there shows growth. Major growth."

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Illinois vs. Rutgers — 3 p.m., BTN

The Illini pretty much had one goal after losing at Minnesota at the end of January.

"After we lost against Minnesota, coach (Brad) Underwood told us we’ve got three home games in a row, let’s try to win all of them. We’re finishing our goal off," Illinois freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said with some confidence.

Achieving that goal, of course, means avoiding a letdown after Tuesday's upset of No. 9 Michigan State and actually beating Rutgers this afternoon.

"That game against Michigan State was one of 20 regular season Big Ten games," Underwood said. "Now, it was a great win. There’s no doubt. Now it’s about the next one. We put that one to bed pretty quick. As a staff, we got our guys’ attention.

"It was a good win, an exciting win. I think we’ll look back at some point — maybe the end of the year or two years down the road — and see how defining a moment, how defining a win, that was. The fans, the Orange Krush, that was awesome. It got as loud as I’ve heard it by far. We’re appreciative of that, and I hope they all show up when we face a much improved and very, very good Rutgers team."

Senior guard Aaron Jordan would agree about the coaching staff getting the team's attention about enjoying the win against the Spartans but turning its attention to the Scarlet Knights.

"Coaches really do a good job of that, to be honest with you," Jordan said. "It’s like, ‘Yeah, you won. Great. Now we’ve got another game.’ It’s the next one, the next one and the next one. We have to go play even harder next game."

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Illinois vs. Rutgers — 3 p.m., BTN

Aaron Jordan hasn't experienced a lot of success in his Illinois career. The Illini are 57-67 in his almost four seasons, and that record is buoyed by a 20-15 record in his sophomore year (the NIT trip with Jamall Walker as interim coach after John Groce was fired).

So ... Tuesday's upset win against No. 9 Michigan State at State Farm Center meant quite a bit to the Illinois senior.

"After I chest-bumped Giorgi, I started kind of jumping around kind of like, ‘OK, where’s everybody else at? Come on, let’s go. This is our chance,' " Jordan said about the postgame court rushing that eventually happened. "Great feeling, honestly. I get emotional always thinking about it just knowing how much these guys work, how much time we put into it, what we’ve been through and where we’re going. Seeing the results of that, there’s no words for it.

"It’s something I’ll always remember. Honestly, as I walked off the court I was like, ‘It’s about damn time.’ "

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Illinois vs. Rutgers — 3 p.m., BTN

Some tweets you might have missed if you're not following me. And if you're not, you know, maybe you should (and can do so right here).

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It's been a while since there's been LIVE! Report on gameday with Illinois in the market for a third straight Big Ten win. The last time? Malcolm Hill's senior season when the Illini won four straight.

The fourth consecutive win that year was a tight one against Michigan State, but the Illini pulled out the Senior Night victory at State Farm Center. Then they lost their regular season finale at Rutgers and one Big Ten tournament game (and loss) later John Groce was out of a job.

So ... not to draw any parallels that are just purely coincidental, but Illinois just upset No. 9 Michigan State in a relative squeaker and will face Rutgers this afternoon with tipoff just about an hour away. But, just going to put that out there. Particularly since this Rutgers team is actually halfway decent.

How halfway decent? Well, the Scarlet Knights already have four Big Ten wins. That's more than they've ever had since they joined the conference (and more than Eddie Jordan had in his two years in the Big Ten combined). Steve Pikiell? Good coach. I've been saying that for a while now. (Check out what he did at Stony Brook).

Of course, Illinois should have all the momentum in the world. The Illini won consecutive Big Ten games for the first time all season in their Tuesday upset of Michigan State, and they played some pretty good basketball (if you ignore that 8 1/2 minute stretch in the second half where they didn't make a shot and the Spartans put together their comeback).

Three wins in three home games is exactly what Illinois had to do to at least show some signs of life this season. Especially with road games coming at Ohio State and Wisconsin.

So, we'll se if the Illini can pull it off. Meanwhile, check out our other Illinois hoops coverage this week to get you prepped for today's game ...

Starters, stats, storylines and the beat writer's pick

Our college basketball writer's look at the entire Big Ten

Asmussen: Criticize him all you want, Dakich a fan of Underwood's Illini

Let the storm roll on: Big Ten, Illini have no court storming rule

Chemistry big part of Illini hoops resurgence

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu has made a habit of taking one of his teammates out for lunch on a weekly basis. It's the Illinois freshman guard's chance to get to know them better. Find out their story.

Illini coach Brad Underwood got his turn Monday — the day before Illinois knocked off No. 9 Michigan State.

"Each week I try to take a player out to lunch and just sit down and talk to them one-on-one to get to know them better, get to know their journey and all," Dosunmu said.

"It was coach's turn. I told him, 'I'm just listening to you. You tell me everything about you.' We talked for about an hour."

Dosunmu's willingness to reach out to his teammates and coaches — make a connection deeper than what they have on the basketball court — isn't a rarity with this Illinois team. The chemistry the Illini have this season has become a regular topic of conversation, and it held the team together through a rough 2 1 / 2 months.

It's a big reason why Illinois (8-15, 4-8 Big Ten) has won three of its last four games and will go for three straight victories at 3 p.m. Saturday against Rutgers (11-11, 4-8) at State Farm Center.

"It's not just unique," Underwood said. "It's pretty special when you get a young guy that isn't just thinking about himself. It's more about his teammates. It's more about how can he help them. It's more about his coaches.

"That same day I get a text from (freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili) in the middle of the day just asking how my day was going. When you get young guys that are so selfless and not selfish, you've got a chance. That's something that Ayo's come up with on his own, and it's a brilliant idea."

To continue reading, click here. Then keep coming back to IlliniHQ.com for more Illinois hoops coverage before, during and after the game.

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