LIVE! Minnesota

LIVE! Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — Illinois dealt with another slow start, but the Illini's comeback attempt fell short Wednesday night against Minnesota as Big Ten play resumed at historic Williams Arena with a 77-67 loss to the Gophers in front of 11,597 fans.

Leron Black scored all 14 of his points in the second half, and Trent Frazier chipped in 12 points for the Illini (10-6, 0-3 Big Ten). Greg Eboigbodin also had nine points — matching his point total for the season. 

Be sure to check out Thursday's News-Gazette and IlliniHQ.com for more from the game before Illinois gets back in action at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Michigan. 

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Minnesota 55, Illinois 44 — 11:38 left in 2nd half

Deadline crunch (8 p.m. tips are the worst) is going to make this the last LIVE! update until the game is finished. And, despite how it started, tonight's final result is still to be determined. A couple stops plus a Mark Alstork three-pointer pulled Illinois within nine points a couple possessions ago. The Illini are still in this. They just have to break out of the routine of scoring and not getting stops then getting stops but not scoring.

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Minnesota 39, Illinois 26 — Halftime

So who had Greg Eboigbodin as Illinois' leading scorer at halftime with twice as many points as any of his teammates through the first 20 minutes? No one? Yeah, that sounds about right. But Eboigbodin is in fact leading the way for Illinois at the break with eight points. Mark Smith is next with four points. 

Honestly, the way this game started, Illinois should be fairly OK with trailing by just 13 points. Apparently actually making shots and not letting Minnesota have every rebound is a good thing.

The Illini have faced worse deficits and rallied. They'll have to do so again tonight in Minneapolis.

Now, to social media!

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Minnesota 28, Illinois 11 — 7:14 left in 1st half

The potential of what Greg Eboigbodin can be is intriguing. Like his dunk that just happened and, coupled with a Mark Alstork three-pointer, got Illinois into double figures. When Eboigbodin catches the ball rolling to an open rim, there's no denying him a dunk. Catching the ball has proven difficult, though. He has two turnovers tonight because he wasn't able to.

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Minnesota 17, Illinois 2 — 11:36 left in 1st half

Words can hardly describe what's happened so far tonight in Minneapolis. Of all the slow starts this season for Illinois, this easily qualifies as the worst. The Illini are 1 of 19 from the field, and with all those misses Minnesota has a 22-8 rebounding edge. 

That 22-point deficit Illinois had early in the second half against Maryland? This game could easily surpass that. Nothing is going right for the Illini.

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Illinois at Minnesota — 8 p.m., BTN

I shared this during SportsTalk earlier this evening (listen to full podcast here), but one way Illinois can maybe pull the upset tonight against Minnesota is a big game by Michael Finke. The last time the Illini played at historic Williams Arena, Finke pulled down a career high 16 rebounds and just missed a double-double with nine points in an overtime victory.

More rebounding is always something Illinois coach Brad Underwood wants from Finke. But the Illini big man can also have an impact offensively. If he's able to knock down some three-pointers and pull Reggie Lynch out of the paint occasionally, that will open up clearer driving lanes for the Illinois guards. Not having the No. 4 shot blocker in the country always at the rim is probably a good idea.

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Illinois at Minnesota — 8 p.m., BTN

As expected ....

On the Minnesota front, Nate Mason is starting for the Golden Gophers. He'll be joined, also as expected, by Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch.

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Illinois at Minnesota — 8 p.m., BTN

A few notes and observations as we get closer to tipoff at historic Williams Arena ...

— Chatted with BTN analyst Shon Morris for a few minutes earlier this evening. Former Northwestern center said Leron Black and Michael Finke "can make a living" in Illini offense. Morris has been impressed by how Black has played lately.

— One of the more unique features at "The Barn" is the raised floor. As in, there's a good foot-plus drop from the playing surface to the cement floor on the next level down. Former Illini Deon Thomas wasn't a fan during his playing days. Told me his freshman year he dove for a loose ball, slid across the floor and ended up right at the edge from falling off. 

— The last time Illinois played at Minnesota, the Orange Krush managed to infiltrate the Gophers' student section. Another Krush trip had it been tonight would have added to tonight's attendance. Tipoff is still about 20 minutes away, but there's plenty of open seats. The fact it's 1 degree outside might make a difference in terms of crowd size, but this is Minnesota. You'd think they'd be used to that.

— Illinois is wearing its road blue jerseys tonight. I tweeted "road blues for the #Illini" earlier, and got some funny replies. We'll find out if there's reason to be blue in a bit.

— Nate Mason looks like a guy who's going to play, but we'll see if he does. That would be big for Minnesota. Not so much for Illinois.

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Illinois at Minnesota — 8 p.m., BTN

Tonight's going to be a challenge for Illinois. Minnesota might not have much depth, but the quartet of Nate Mason (if he plays), Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch is one most teams would take in a heartbeat. 

Murphy and Lynch in particular will challenge the Illini bigs. Murphy's a double-double machine, and Lynch is the No. 4 shot blocker in the country. Illinois redshirt junior forward Michael Finke said the Illini bigs are up to the challenge.

"Murphy and Lynch, they’re both really talented," Finke said. "They both bring a lot to the table, but nothing we can’t handle. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but I think we’re all ready for it.

"You know (Lynch is) jumping for everything so you ball fake a little bit. Guards have to look to dump off. He’s obviously a really good defender, so he’s going to get some blocked shots. We’ve got to do what we can, go up strong and not be timid."

The fact Big Ten play is resuming tonight also gives the game that little something extra.

"There was definitely a difference in feeling when we played the first two (Big Ten games) in terms of the atmosphere and intensity level," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We’ve got a very, very good Minnesota team to open with and a guy that’s probably playing as well as anybody in college basketball with Murphy and all his double-doubles. He’s a handful.

"They’re imposing on the defensive end with all their shot blocking, and they’re a team that finds a way to get to the foul line a great deal. We know we’ve got to play exceptionally well and stay locked in on the defensive end as we take on Minnesota."

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Illinois at Minnesota — 8 p.m., BTN

Nate Mason went through the first round of pregame warmups for MInneosta, but there's still no official word on whether the All-Big Ten guard will play tonight for the Golden Gophers. Mason missed Saturday's game against Harvard and remains a gametime decision whether he plays against Illinois or not.

Needless to say, it makes a difference.

"He’s a guy that is so explosive in transition because he has great range and loves step-in threes," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "More importantly, he’s a veteran. They do a lot with him in some of their ball screen stuff, and he’s a tremendous passer. There’s some differences there in terms of the pecking order of how they play offense."

If Mason doesn't play — or start — freshman guard Isaiah Washington will almost assuredly take his place in the backcourt.

"Washington’s more of a guy that’s probably a better athlete," Underwood said. "He gets them going downhill a little more. He’s a guy that’s deceiving in the fact he does a lot of things a point guard doesn’t do. He grabbed 13 rebounds (against Harvard). He’s a really, really good player, but Mason’s just that sound guy they run a lot of stuff through."

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It might seem odd to say Big Ten play is back underway today for Illinois, but that's the reality when early December games were added so the conference tournament could be played a week earlier than normal at Madison Square Garden.

Beat writer Scott Richey (as always, that's me), is on location at historic Williams Arena in Minneapolis for another LIVE! Report on the road as the Illini jump back into league play against Minnesota. And jump back in sporting an 0-2 Big Ten record after losing overtime games to both Northwestern and Maryland a month ago.

So the time to start digging out of that early small hole is now. Of course, the Golden Gophers — even if All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason is questionable to play — provide a serious challenge. One, Williams Arena is a tough place to win on the road. Two, the Gophers still have some talented players in Jordan Murphy (more on him later), Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch.

Illinois is riding some momentum after wins against Missouri and Grand Canyon — where the Illini really had to battle — so maybe it's carried over tonight against Minnesota. 

Another 8 p.m. tip will mean sporadic in-game LIVE! Report updates, but plenty is still to come during pregame and you can catch up on all things Illini basketball from this week below ...

Lineups, storylines and the beat writer's pick

A look at the Big Ten as a whole as league play resumes

Some New Year's resolutions for the Illini

Ask a question in this week's chat (10:30 a.m. Thursday start)

Slow start last thing Illini need

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood had seen enough.

Substitutes were already on their way to check in at the scorer's table as Maryland opened up a quick lead a month ago at State Farm Center during the two-game December prelude of Big Ten play.

A layup by Michal Cekovsky put the Terrapins up 10-0. Not inclined to wait for a dead ball and the first media timeout, Underwood called one of his own so he could get, by that point, all five of his subs in the game.

The leash might be that short again as Illinois (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten) returns to conference play at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Minnesota (12-3, 1-1).

The Illini have found ways to win — and lose — games after slow starts. Their margin of error shrinks in the Big Ten.

"The bench will be utilized a little more if we're not into a start," Underwood said. "I'm not afraid to make a wholesale line change. You've got to try to right the ship quickly in those things if it's a slow start.

"Top to bottom, this conference is as good as any in the country. There's no easy games. If you don't show up, you don't deserve to win. We've tried to reiterate that to our guys."

To continue reading click here. Then be sure to keep coming back to IlliniHQ.com before, during and especially after tonight's game (online extras) for more Illinois basketball coverage.

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Moonpie wrote on January 04, 2018 at 10:01 am

The Fighting Creampuffs strike again!!!