Illinois men's basketball vs. Nicholls State in their season opener at State Farm Center in Champaign on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
Any Illinois fans hoping for an easy, breezy start to the 2019-20 season were treated to a nailbiter instead. That Nicholls State nearly pulled the upset was definitely some cause for concern on the first night of the year.
WHAT IT MEANS
This could still be an NCAA tournament team. Through one game, though? Not so much. Turnovers were an issue. Shooting, too. Still plenty of work to be done for this Illinois team to live up to the preseason expectations.
Rolling into the toughest stretch of the nonconference schedule after a lackluster opening night performance won’t be easy. Grand Canyon is up first at 8 p.m. Friday in the Illini’s Arizona two-fer.
Handing out grades
Player of the game | Illinois guard Andres Feliz
Clutch. That’s probably the best way to describe the Illini senior. Feliz got Illinois back on track in overtime after Nicholls State came within a possession of pulling the upset, and led the Illini with 23 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. His teammates and coaches consider him a steadying presence, and that’s exactly what Feliz was against the Colonels.
Nicholls State B- | Illinois B-
Feliz had some help Tuesday night. Ayo Dosunmu finished with 21 points of his own and added seven rebounds and two assists. But you can’t discount 11 turnovers from the Illini guards or the Colonels' Dexter McClanahan dropping 25 points trying to engineer the upset.
Nicholls State D- | Illinois B-
The exhibition game obviously didn’t count, but Illinois freshman center Kofi Cockburn is now 2 for 2 on double-doubles at State Farm Center. The 7-footer had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Giorgi Bezhanishvili chipped in 11 points and four rebounds, but the Illini frontcourt was just as turnover prone.
Nicholls State C- | Illinois D-
Brad Underwood’s regular goal is to get as much production from his bench as his starting lineup. It didn’t happen Tuesday night with just nine bench points. Seven of those came from Alan Griffin. The Colonels, meanwhile, managed 17 points from their reserves.
Nicholls State C- | Illinois C+
Illinois managed to avoid the nightmare scenario, but struggling to finish off Nicholls State wasn’t exactly the start to the season expected of a team projected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten and snap a six-season streak of not making the NCAA tournament.