Smothering defense leads to Illinois rout over Evansville in season opener

Smothering defense leads to Illinois rout over Evansville in season opener

Rapid Recap: Illinois 99, Evansville 60

CHAMPAIGN — If Illinois is going to take a step forward in Year Two under Brad Underwood, it’s guard play — due to a lack of proven post options — must be really good.

In Thursday’s season opener against Evansville, the Illini perimeter players imposed their will against an inferior opponent on both ends of the floor.

The Illini (1-0), which shot 56.3 percent from the field, sank 12 of 27 threes and scored 31 points off 25 Evansville turnovers to rout the Purple Aces 99-60.

In his long-awaited debut, freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu didn’t disappoint. The 5-star Chicago Morgan Park product filled the box score with 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and one turnover.

Senior guard Aaron Jordan scored 19 points, shooting a blistering 5-for-8 three, and junior college transfer Andres Feliz scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting in his Illini debut, though he did have five turnovers. Sophomore guard Trent Frazier scored all 10 of his points in the first half and added seven assists. Junior forward Kipper Nichols added 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Evansville, which lost top scorers Ryan Taylor (Northwestern) and Dru Smith (Missouri) to the transfer market, couldn’t handle the Illini’s pressure defense.

During the first half, Illinois had three double-digit runs (10-0, 13-0 and 12-0) en route to a 53-22 halftime lead. During the 13-0 run, Jordan went on an 8-0 run by himself — with two threes sandwiching a layup — in 37 seconds.

The Illini also got good contributions from its other newcomers. Freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili had seven points and 10 rebounds (all of his boards came in the first half) to help the Illini win the battle of the boards 40-31. After playing few minutes in the Illinis exhibition game last week, freshman forward Tevian Jones (eight points, four rebounds) was active on the glass and sank a pair of midrange jumpers in the second half.

Illinois notched its 100th season opening win (in 114 attempts) and improved to 34-2 in season openers at State Farm Center. The Illini are now 51-7 all-time against Missouri Valley Conference teams.

Graduate transfer center Adonis De La Rosa worked out with team managers before the game, under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher, but the senior did not dress for the game. De La Rosa has been cleared for contact during practice, and Brad Underwood has called his availability for games “day to day.”

Freshman guard Alan Griffin did not play after suffering a minor knee injury. He had not practiced in recent days. Freshman center Samba Kane was the only active player who did not play, including walk-ons. Underwood said after the game he did not play due to a violation of team rules.

Evansville center Dainius Chatkevicius missed the game due to a three-game suspension. He led the Purple Aces with 17 points and eight rebounds in Evansvilles exhibition game.

What it means Evansville looks like a bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference team, and Illinois treated them like it. After feeling the game out for a few minutes, the Illini asserted dominance on both ends of the court. The Illini played Brad Underwoods style: ferocious and relentless on defense, quick and selfless on offense. This team is longer, quicker and more athletic, but it is very young. Thats why it was encouraging to see a focused effort through most of the night. Evansville was one of the few cupcakes on the schedule. With Georgetown coming to town on Tuesday and the Maui Invitational in 10 days, the Illini quickly move away from warmup games. Well see if theyre ready for a real test.

Illinois hosts Georgetown on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., FS1) as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, an annual showdown between the Big Ten and Big East. The Illini are 1-1 in Gavitt games, losing 60-59 to Providence in 2015 and defeating DePaul 82-73 last season. This will be the Illini’s sixth meeting with Georgetown — Illinois holds a 4-1 advantage. — but the teams haven’t played since 2005. Iconic Hoyas player Patrick Ewing is 1-0 in his first season as Georgetown head coach. The Hoyas defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore 68-53 on Tuesday and host Central Connecticut on Saturday. No surprise, the Hoyas are led by a big man. Senior center Jessie Govan averaged 17.9 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season.

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois defensive pressure was too much. So was its backcourt. The Illini forced 25 turnovers, five players finished in double figures and they topped Evansville 99-60 in their season opener at State Farm Center.

Aaron Jordan led Illinois with 19 points, while freshman guard Ayo Dosunmus debut included 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

There are now five Illini in double figures. Id say the rout is on, but it has been for about an hour now. Aaron Jordan still leads the way with 16 points. 

Perhaps the most interesting note at the moment is walk-ons Tyler Underwood and Drew Cayce have both played. Freshmen Alan Griffin and Samba Kane have not.

So it seems like Evansville was picked last in the Missouri Valley Conference for a reason. The Purple Aces had 15 turnovers in the first half and let Illinois shoot 8 of 18 from three-point range. Opting not to cover Aaron Jordan in the corner several times was probably a mistake.

Jordan has 14 points. His career high is 22 points last season against Longwood. Hes well on his way — obviously — to topping that. One way he might not is if this game gets any more out of hand. Jordan simply wont be playing at that point.

Its early, and Evansville might not be the best barometer, but this #Illini team looks really … fun. Starting to see Underwoods system come to life.

The Illini are on a 15-4 run since the last update. Its been an Aaron Jordan-fueled run. The senior guard is 3 of 5 from three-point range and leads the Illini with 11 points. Trent Frazier has eight points (2 of 5 from deep), and Ayo Dosunmu just hit his first three-pointer of the game and has seven points.

Andres Feliz, Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier are in the game at the same time. So … its not exactly a surprise that the pace is wild right now. A transition three-pointer from Frazier has the Illini up 10 at the second media timeout of the half. 

Starters are as expected for Illinois with Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan in the backcourt and Kipper Nichols and Giorgi Bezhanishvili up front.

Evansvilles starters are also the same as from its exhibition. The Purple Aces are going with Shea Feehan, K.J. Riley, Marty Hill, John Hall and Evan Kuhlman.

UE says big man Dainius Chatkevicius is suspended for the first three games of the season.He wont play at Illinois tonight. Brad Underwood talked a lot about him in interviews this week. @my44news

Thats a game changer for Illinois. Particulary since the Purple Aces dont have nearly as effective a backup as their Lithuanian big man. Of course, everyone was looking forward to the matchup between Chatkevicius and Illini freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

Expect to see Illinois three-guard lineup with Andres Feliz, Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier a fair amount tonight against Evansville. From an offensive standpoint, it was probably the Illinis most productive group in the exhibition win against Illinois Wesleyan. 

“We get out in transition and run,” the sophomore lefty said. “They both did an unbelievable job scoring in transition. Andres did an incredible job, and he had a phenomenal game. I think thats one of the biggest he has is scoring in transition. I think its impossible to guard him in transition, and Ayo, with his length, he can get to the basket every single time.”

Aaron Jordan shifts to more of a frontcourt role with that trio on the floor together. He doesnt mind.

“I hold it down down there,” the Illini senior guard said. “I dont care how big you are. Size doesnt really matter in our system. … Teams are definitely going to have trouble guarding it. You have three points guards out there who are very skilled — high IQ guys. What are you going to do with that?”

The composition of Illinois roster means a number of Illini will be making their official debuts in orange and blue. Including a bunch of freshmen. Are they ready?

“Theyre picking things up really fast, and I think theyre really growing,” said sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who was in their spot just a year ago. “They were really excited (in the exhibition). I liked their energy. It was their first game out. They were probably nervous a little bit, but getting them out here to get the flow of the game and the college speed I think they realized how fast this game is right now and what it takes to be out here and play.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood had some mixed feelings about his teams play in its exhibition game against Illinois Wesleyan last Friday.

“Some really good things and some not so good things from the exhibition,” he said. “Really liked our first half. I thought we were a group that was dialed in. I thought defensively we took them out of everything we wanted to take them out of. Offensively, there were some good things and some things we need to work on and clean up.

“We came out and played about 3 minutes in the second half and then just kind of went through the motions to be very honest. Weve talked a lot about that. We looked at a lot of different lineups. Overall, I thought there was a lot of growth. I thought our guys were excited. I thought our guys were a little nervous. I thought we did a great job of not fouling. That will be a big part of our game (today). I thought we did it by being very, very aggressive. I loved the 29 turnovers.”

Good evening everybody. In case you somehow missed Kansas showing why it was the preseason No. 1 team or Duke showing why everyone will (or should) vote for the Blue Devils next week, its college basketball season!

What a start Tuesday at the Champions Classic. Plus Champaigns own Jordan Caroline leading Nevada past BYU with 25 points and 16 rebounds. And yours truly getting burned on a Florida over Florida State hot take. Like surface of the sun burned.

And now its here in Champaign. Illinois will officially open the 2018-19 season in about an hour at State Farm Center. Up first are the Evansville Purple Aces … an Evansville team that does not have Ryan Taylor or Dru Smith. Both of which, the Illini could still see this season. Taylor (now at Northwestern) for sure. Smith at Missouri? Depends if Dru has the same type of fortune as Mark Smith in getting his year-in-residence required waived.

Tonights game, though, isnt so much about Evansville. Sure, Purple Aces big man Dainius Chatkevicius could give Illinois freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili some trouble. And the two of them squaring off only makes public address announcer Tim Sinclairs job harder.

Tonights game is more about the new-look Illini. How will they fare when the result actually matters. Illinois exhibition win against Division III Illinois Wesleyan was … fine. The Illini won by 16 points and got some tremendous guard play at the offensive end from Andres Feliz, Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu (all three in double figures). 

But Illinois gave up too many easy three-pointers to the Titans and certainly too many easy looks around the rim. Those were cornerstone issues for the 2017-18 Illini — particularly teams running layup line offenses. If Illinois Wesleyan can do it … 

So theres some questions to start answering tonight. Until then, as always, you should catch up on all our Illinois basketball coverage the last few days in The News-Gazette and right here at

CHAMPAIGN — Trent Frazier vocalized one of his 2018-19 season goals on Monday. Now Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood is going to hold the sophomore guard to it.

“Im just going to put it out there because were all going to hold him accountable to it now because he said it,” Underwood said. “He said, I want to be All-Defensive Team in the Big Ten. A year ago, that was far, far, far from anything in Trents mindset. Weve seen tremendous growth.”

Frazier did lead all Big Ten freshmen in steals a year ago, and he was one of just five freshmen nationally to lead his team in assists, steals and three-pointers. So just add a full-on defensive breakout to the responsibilities stacked on Fraziers shoulders as Illinois season officially starts with todays 7 p.m. tipoff against Evansville at State Farm Center.

Posted in Evansville