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What We Learned: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Providence Friars

The Fighting Illini battled hard in Providence but came up just short as the Friars edged Illinois 60-59.

Illinois' Khalid Lewis dribbling the ball in Providence on Wednesday night.
Illinois' Khalid Lewis dribbling the ball in Providence on Wednesday night.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois took Providence down to the wire in a tightly contested game that was drama-filled, intense, and all-around, fun to watch. The two teams were fairly even in the first half, though Providence managed to hold a 32-30 lead over Illinois. The Friars took a 7 point lead in the second half, but immediately following their run was an 8 point run by Illinois' Michael Finke that brought Illinois closer and closer to the Friars.

Late in the game, Illinois' Jalen Coleman-Lands hit a dagger three pointer to take a three point lead. With 5 minutes left to play, the two teams battled on both ends of the floor. Providence led 60-59 with less than 20 seconds remaining. Illinois' Malcolm Hill took the ball to the rack and missed a layup through contact. Right there for the offensive board was Michael Finke who looked as if he was going to take the lead with a put-back dunk. The freshman missed the slam off the back iron and Malcolm Hill missed the final shot of the game. Illinois moves to 1-2 after a heartbreaking loss.

Here's what we can take away from this highly-contested basketball game.

What We Learned

1. Illinois Has Options Outside of Leron Black and Mike Thorne Jr.

Illinois best two players in the post combined for one big goose egg in scoring. Neither player was able to post a single point as each sat on the bench in foul trouble for most of the game. Leron Black played 4 minutes and had 4 fouls. Mike Thorne Jr. fouled out late in the contest and shot 0 of 5 from the field after coming into the game averaging 23 points per contest. It was a tough night for the two forwards.

That being said, the Fighting Illini proved to have some solid depth in the frontcourt Wednesday night. Freshman Michael Finke had 12 points and junior Maverick Morgan had 6 as Illinois almost got a huge road victory without any contribution from Leron Black or Mike Thorne Jr. Michael Finke was the star of the show for Illinois' frontcourt with 12 points and 7 rebounds. He made some great plays on the night, including a magnificent jump-pass to set up Jalen Coleman-Lands for a momentum-swinging three pointer.

2. Jalen Coleman-Lands Is as Good as Advertised

Illinois' sharp-shooting freshman guard Coleman-Lands has proved to be a threat from all over the court. He knocked down 5 huge threes in the contest and looked like a veteran in a high-level collegiate basketball game, The freshman Coleman-Lands is ranked as No. 34 in his class by ESPN 100, and so far, he is showing that he can fill it up from behind the arc. The freshman has hit 9 of his 16 three point attempts this year.

Coleman-Lands looked like a veteran in Illinois' loss to Providence largely in part to the little things he did down the stretch. When Illinois needed a basket and missed, he grabbed a long rebound that gave the Illini a much needed extra possession. Just when it looked like Illinois might give the ball back to Providence down 2 with a minute to play, Coleman-Lands came up with a big steal that set up Malcolm Hill with a jumper that tied the game. Jalen Coleman-Lands led the Illini with 17 points and had an all-around great performance.

3. Illinois Needs to Improve Defensive Rebounding

Though Illinois only got outrebounded by 1 board on the offensive glass (16-15 in Providence's favor), it sure felt like a lot more. Illinois allowed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half alone and allowed Providence to capitalize with second chance points. Though Providence allowed Illinois to pull in a number of offensive rebounds as well, they weren't as pivotal, as Illinois had a tough time finishing in the post with its best two forwards on the bench.

Part of the problem for Illinois was that Black and Thorne Jr. were stuck riding the bench all day. Many of their fouls came going for rebounds. Illinois has to learn to rebound without fouling. When Illinois' big men are out of position down low, they grab and bump the opponent and subsequently get called for personals. Illinois needs to establish itself down low and block out every single time the ball goes up in the air if it wants to find success moving forward.

Overall

Illinois battled tough against a Providence team that has one of the best players in the nation in Kris Dunn. It's amazing how one shot can be the difference between a huge win and a tough loss, but that's basketball. Illinois, though it falls to 1-2, will look to continue to improve as it faces a tough Chattanooga team at home this Saturday. A loss like that can be a tough pill to swallow for Illini fans, but there is no shame in fighting all the way until the end.