Notes: Illini miss Finke, Nittany Lions bottle up Frazier

Notes: Illini miss Finke, Nittany Lions bottle up Frazier

CHAMPAIGN — Michael Finke went all out for a loose ball early in Illinois’ Saturday practice at State Farm Center a play after he failed to corral a rebound during a 5-on-5 drill.

Finke chased the loose ball to the ground, showing exactly the type of hustle Illini coach Brad Underwood wants. It’s also where he took an inadvertent blow to the head that opened up a cut over his right eye and gave him a concussion that forced him out of Sunday night’s game against Penn State.

“Concussion protocol is obviously something we take very seriously,” Underwood said. “That’s just a day-to-day process. Until he is seen (today) we won’t know any different. I know there’s a process with that as well. We missed Mike. Mike’s our voice.”

The concussion had Finke out of the Illinois lineup for the first time this season. The 6-foot-10 redshirt junior forward had started the previous 25 games for the Illini and ranked third on the team in scoring (9.6 ppg) and second in rebounding (4.8 rpg).

Finke’s return is unknown. While he was at State Farm Center on Sunday, he didn’t watch the game from the bench per instructions from team athletic trainer Paul Schmidt after the music during the Illini’s shootaround earlier Sunday exacerbated his concussion symptoms.

“Him talking and being a leader, we missed that a lot today,” fellow redshirt junior forward Leron Black said, echoing his coach. “Being another big down there, he definitely could have helped with rebounding and scoring.”

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Penn State coach Pat Chambers knew the challenge Trent Frazier would present his team, especially after the Illinois freshman put up 32 points on Thursday against Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions countered with Josh Reaves and Nazeer Bostick — both long-armed guards — and managed to hold Frazier to six points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“We just have some long, athletic guys,” Chambers said. “Trent’s really good. The 32 points against Wisconsin? Wow, that was not fun to watch for the coach that’s coming in and scouting it. ... We were fortunate to be able to slow him down a little bit.”

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Illinois held an 18-9 rebounding advantage at halftime and was particularly effective on the offensive glass, pulling down nine of its 15 misses. The final rebounding margin? A plus-four for the Illini at 32-28.
Underwood said both the serious halftime edge and lesser advantage by the final whistle came down to effort.

“It shows our effort the second half,” Underwood said. “I don’t worry about missed shots. I can’t control. What I should be able to control is the effort which guys go to the glass, and we were good in the first half.”

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Underwood has been in constant search of space for his offense. Space that’s been hard to come by at times with the Illini’s shooting woes.

Da’Monte Williams, Te’Jon Lucas, Mark Smith and Mark Alstork all shooting less than 25 percent from three-point range and Finke seeing his three-point shooting dip below 30 percent means spacing goes out the window.

Poor shooting makes it more difficult to get the ball to Black in a position to score. He still managed a game-high 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the Nittany Lions.

“The game’s about spacing,” Underwood said. “Leron had an unbelievable 18 (Sunday) because every time I turned around there were so many people hovering around him in the paint. We have to move the ball.

“We have to get the ball side to side. We can’t just come down and run one pass or dribble entry and throw him the basketball because we don’t move the defense.”
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Should one of Illinois’ shooters get hot — say, like Frazier has mostly been the last month-plus games — they should expect Underwood to keep calling plays to get them the ball.

“I’m very much a guy that’s going to ride the hot hand of the guy that gets it going,” Underwood said. “I’ve always been that way. I believe in that. I loved it as a player, and I do it as a coach.”

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Illinois has just two home games remaining on the schedule with a Feb. 18 date with Nebraska and Feb. 22 matchup against Purdue. That means just two more games for the Illini to take advantage of the atmosphere their student section can create.

“Orange Krush is very huge for us,” Frazier said. “They bring a lot of energy to our games, and they always come — win or lose. That’s very important to us, and we appreciate all the things they do for us. They’re very helpful with the other players, just getting on their butts. It’s fun. They bring a lot of energy.”

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Underwood has said his one true flaw as a coach is an inability to see the big picture on occasion. But when it comes to getting some help around Black and Frazier, Underwood can see both a short- and long-term picture.

Shotmaking can help solve the former. But for the latter?

“Recruiting,” Underwood said.

The Illinois coaching staff kept up its pursuit of both more immediate help and longer-term additions this week with an offer to 2018 guard Demarius Jacobs on Friday night and an offer to 2019 guard Antavion Collum late Saturday.

The offer for Jacobs involves tapping a potential pipeline. Jacobs, a former Chicago Uplift standout now playing a prep school year at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, played this past spring and summer alongside 2018 Illinois signee Ayo Dosunmu for Mac Irvin Fire.

The Illini have also offered 2019 wing Kahlil Whitney, 2020 guard Adam Miller and 2020 forward Shon Robinson, who are all also Mac Irvin Fire players.

Jacobs, a one-time Southern Illinois commit, is a consensus three-star prospect after reclassifying to the 2018 class. The 6-2 guard is averaging 12.9 points, five rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game for Hillcrest and has other offers from Arizona State, Saint Louis and Western Kentucky.

Even with Dosunmu on board, Illinois continues to recruit backcourt and wing players in the 2018 class. The Illini recently got back in on Webster Groves (Mo.) four-star guard Courtney Ramey, who de-committed from Louisville following Rick Pitino’s ouster in October, and they remain involved with four-star California wing Tevian Jones and three-star Woodstock (Conn.) Academy wing Luis Rodriguez.

Collum could be a matchup nightmare for whatever program the 2019 guard chooses. At 6-8 and 215 pounds, Collum runs the point for Tennessee Prep Academy in Memphis. The four-star prospect per both Rivals and 247Sports holds other offers from Georgetown, Iowa State, Kansas State, Maryland, Memphis, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt.