On Monday evening, Illinois tipped off in quaterfinals of the NIT postseason tournament. The game featured the second seeded Illini hosting the sixth seeded Boise State Broncos. It was a matchup of two good basketball teams battling to reach the quarterfinals later this week.
For Illinois, it was clear they didn’t want their season to end.
A Leron Black dunk with 9:22 left in the second half gave Illinois the lead for good, adn the Fightin’ Illini cruised to a 71-56 vcitory in their last home game of the season.
Illinois was led by senior guard Tracy Abrams who finished with a game high 18 points.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned:
1. There is no quit in this Illinois team.
Despite head coach John Groce getting fired on March 11th, the Illini have shown their true character by winning back-to-back games in the NIT. Associate head coach Jamall Walker was named interim coach, and the team has responded in a big way. Illinois closed the game on a 22-7 run and earned a date with Central Florida to battle for a trip to Madison Square Garden and the semi-finals.
In a year where fellow Big Ten programs like Indiana declined NIT home games, the Illini and their fans should be proud of how their team has responded over the last two games.
2. The Illinois backcourt looks very promising for next season.
New head coach Brad Underwood is already hard at work on keeping the top 15 recruiting class Groce signing before his dismissal. Four-star point guard Trent Frazier has already recommitted, and the hope is that former Illini star Frank Williams’ son Da Monte Williams will follow. That would give Underwood two huge building blocks.
They will join sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands who continued to improve throughout the season and has played well during the NIT. He is nine of 20 from the three point arc over his last five games, and made two big threes against Boise State last night.
3. The Fightin’ Illini have their eyes on a NIT Championship.
The teams has really rallied about coach Walker and are now playing with a unified purpose. Senior guard Malcolm Hill is leading the way averaging 19 points per game over the last two contests.
Fellow seniors Maverick Morgan and Tracy Abrams are contributing and playing big minutes.
The seniors are motivating key underclassmen like forward Leron Black, and would love to win their last home game in front of a strong Illinois crowd to put an exclamation point on their collegiate careers.
Illinois is a program in transition right now, but the announcement of Brad Underwood has fans thinking about endless possibilities. A trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semi-finals would be a great culmination for the seniors, and an even bigger foundation for Illini basketball next season.