Ebo in line for minutes after solid new year

Ebo in line for minutes after solid new year

CHAMPAIGN —The first half of January doubled as one long breakout moment for Illinois’ Greg Eboigbodin.

The freshman forward had played sparingly — or not at all on two occasions — during the first month-and-a-half of the season. Eboigbodin scored his first point on a free throw against Marshall in the fourth game of the year, didn’t make his first shot until Dec. 3 against Maryland and never scored more than two points in a game.

Then Eboigbodin hit 4 of 5 shots, scored nine points and pulled down a few rebounds as Big Ten play resumed for Illinois on Jan. 3 at Minnesota.

He added a career-high 10 points three days later at Michigan.

And then he scored eight points twice in the next three games while shooting 18 of 23 from the field (78 percent) in a five-game stretch.

After getting the first start of his career Sunday against Penn State in place of an injured Michael Finke, Eboigbodin will enter today’s rematch with Indiana having scored just four points in Illinois’ last six games.

The 6-foot-9 forward left defenders flat footed with the quickness he exhibited rim running after setting screens in the high post during his January breakthrough. Opposing defenses have since caught up.

“A lot of teams have done a really good job of taking my screen-and-roll away,” Eboigbodin said. “We just have to exploit the other options. If they take the roll away, we just need guys to put up shots.”

Eboigbodin’s production has also been a victim of Illinois’ spacing issues on the offensive end. Illinois is shooting just 32.6 percent from three-point range in its past six games, with an 11 of 27 performance in its Jan. 24 win against Indiana as the positive outlier. While opposing teams have keyed in on Eboigbodin in pick-and-roll situations, they’re also packing the lane more defensively.

“I’ve got tremendous faith in our guys being able to step in and make some shots,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood, adding that the Illini need to get Mark Smith making jumpers and Aaron Jordan back on track from three-point range.

“It’s schematics that other teams are trying to do,” Underwood continued. “We’re going to have to continue to fight through it until we prove we can (make shots).”

Underwood still wants Eboigbodin to aggressively attack the basket in Illinois’ offense. It’s what uses his skill set in the most advantageous way, especially with opposing teams keying in more on freshman point guard Trent Frazier.

“He’s an elite rim runner,” Underwood said. “Man, he was going so hard early, and that puts the defense at a disadvantage. We talked to him about it. We didn’t feel like maybe he was going as hard to rim, but we get it. Everybody’s loading up on Trent, and it has gotten more difficult from that standpoint.”

Eboigbodin said he has to continue to do the other areas he considers strengths if his best offensive opportunities remain limited. While he didn’t score Sunday against Penn State, he tied Leron Black and Kipper Nichols for the team lead with six rebounds.

“I just have to do other intangibles, like blocking shots, getting rebounds and playing good defense,” Eboigbodin said. “That’s something I can also do to help the team if they take my strong suit away.”