Nichols, Illini storm past Thundering Herd

Nichols, Illini storm past Thundering Herd

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood doesn't know what Kipper Nichols' ceiling might be.

The Illinois coach does, however, know that Nichols hasn't come close to reaching it in his time with the Illini.

Sunday was another step toward that for the redshirt sophomore forward out of Cleveland.

Nichols notched his first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, helping Illinois pull away for a 91-74 victory against Marshall and stay unbeaten this season in front of a 10,022-strong crowd at State Farm Center.

"Kipper is a guy that can step out and shoot a three," Underwood said. "He's a guy we can put in isolations. He's a guy we can post up. His versatility is a positive for us."

There's even more Nichols can do. He pulled down several rebounds and led the break multiple times against the Thundering Herd.

Of course, there were a couple occasions Underwood would have been happier with Nichols giving up the ball and working to get it back in transition. He's going to keep pushing Nichols to get better.

"He's growing," Underwood said. "I'll hug him on Tuesday again, and that will be after practice. In the meantime, I'll continue to push him and drive him. ... When I can get Kipper to not take a play off on the defensive end, man. He's got the capabilities to guard, literally, four spots and in some games maybe five."

Nichols being able to start the season on the court has been a bonus. After transferring to Illinois in December 2015, the one-time Tulane signee had to sit out a full year and wasn't eligible to play until December 2016.

"I think just the fact I got to start out at the beginning of the year and get acclimated with (Underwood's) system and get those game reps has been helping me," Nichols said. "I feel good. I feel like we had a great preseason. (Underwood) and his coaching staff, they push us day in and day out to be the best we can be."

Nichols is averaging 12.8 points in 17.8 minutes per game for Illinois so far this season. He's shooting 48.5 percent from the field, has knocked down three three-pointers and has been responsible for 4.8 rebounds per game.

None of that has surprised Illinois redshirt junior forward Leron Black.

"He's the same player. His hair has gotten too long, but it's the same player I've known," Black said, smiling with Nichols sitting beside him after Sunday's win. "He's just been doing what I knew he could do the moment he came in.

"The offseason we stayed here and worked hard this summer — worked hard together. He's finally able to play the role and do what I know he could do."

Nichols has come off the bench in all four games for Illinois this season. His role when he checks in? Whatever Underwood tells him to, the 6-foot-6 forward quipped.

Underwood wants a productive bench. He has gotten it through four games with Nichols, Aaron Jordan (nine points, five rebounds and three steals against Marshall), Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams.

"You guys will find that I love productivity off the bench," Underwood said. "I try to create it. I don't want just bodies going in. I need productivity coming off the bench. Kipper and I have talked about that. He's a very valuable piece to that."


What happened
Illinois almost entirely avoided the second-half lull that has cropped up in the early going this season, turning a 10-point halftime lead into a 91-74 victory against Marshall. A balanced Illini offense that took care of the ball was the difference.

What it means
Two weekends. Four wins. The Brad Underwood era is off to a productive start at Illinois. Tougher opponents — including a pair of early Big Ten games — are on the way. How the Illini respond when tested more will be a true test of where they are as a team.

What’s next
The most shrug-worthy game on the schedule comes Wednesday, with Illinois hosting Augustana (Ill.) — last year’s Division III national runners-up — for a 6 p.m. game at State Farm Center the day before Thanksgiving.

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Moonpie wrote on November 20, 2017 at 9:11 am

But who have they beaten? Nobody, yet.