The Illini offense struggled mightily in the early going, as they went scoreless in the first 5:35 of the game, until James Augustine made one of two free throws. But the Illini did not hit their first shot from the floor until the 11:29 mark in the first half when Jamar Smith hit a three pointer from the corner. In the first half, the Illini would get occasional inspired play, but every time the Illini made a run, Xavier had an answer for it and were able to enter the halftime intermission with a 36-26 lead that with the way the Illini were playing appeared to be insurmountable.
But the resilience of the Illini came through in the second half. The Illini started the second half on a 15-4 run, and took a 41-40 lead (the Illini's first of the game) with 12:31 to go in the game. After the Illini took the lead, Xavier quickly bounced back scoring the next 6 points, and taking a 46-41 lead before the officials took over with some very questionable calls that went in the Illini's favor, including a very quick technical foul called on Xavier's Will Caudle.
After a very poor first half, in which the Illini offense was perimeter oriented and only could manage to score 26 points, the Illini offense looked much better in the second half as they scored 40 points led by the interior play of senior James Augustine and junior Marcus Arnold. Augustine led the Illini with 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and 9-for-16 from the free throw line. Arnold entered the game in the second half, replacing Shaun Pruitt and was phenomenal. In his sixteen minutes of action he scored 7 points on 3-for-4 shooting and pulled down 6 crucial rebounds.
Offensive Efficiency: 102.13
Defensive Efficiency: 97.42
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 30.0%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 73.1%
It is definitely interesting that the Illini were still able to score more than one point per possession on the offensive end of the court, but that is a testament to how efficient on offense the Illini were in the second half. Once the Illini realized that getting the ball into James Augustine and Marcus Arnold on the post was the best way for them to score on Saturday afternoon, the Illini offense clicked much better than it did in the first half. Even with this, there were numerous times when the Illini offense struggled in the second half, due to a lack of movement, both of the ball and the players. There were what seemed like an uncountable number of times when the Illini had four people on the strong side offensively, with just one person on the weak side. Combine the lack of spacing with a general lack of movement on many possessions, and you had two key reasons why the Illini offense has struggled, not just in this contest against Xavier, but all season.
BRUMBY'S RANDOM THOUGHTS
- It was good to see James Augustine get the ball in the post a lot, but he needed to get the ball even more on Saturday afternoon. I know if I were the coach, there would not be a possession in which Augustine did not touch the ball on the block, and if there was, heads would roll. Augustine should touch the ball every time the Illini are in a half court set offensively. He scores, and he does it more effective than any one else on the team. On Saturday Augustine was especially impressive shooting 78% from the floor, and getting to the free throw line. Despite that, I would still like to see him get the ball more.
- When he is in the game, Chester Frazier needs to be more decisive with the ball. Chester is Illinois' back up point guard, but ever since the competition level has increased, he has become too timid with the basketball. He too often drives the ball into the middle of the defense without a purpose causing turnovers. The time he did that on Saturday afternoon was just a bad move for the Illini offense. Combine that with the 21-footer he shot up when the Illini really needed a possession, and there is really no wonder why he did not see more time on the court.
- Jamar Smith really knows his role, and he is good at it. On Saturday, he was a tenacious on the ball defender with very active hands. He tapped the ball away from the man he was defending a few times, but in general was a pest to the Musketeer guards. Sure, he still needs to work on his help side defense, but when you combine his on the ball defense and his great shooting, he will be a very key asset for the Illini as Big Ten Conference play starts next month.
- It looks like Warren Carter has fallen behind Marcus Arnold in the big man rotation, and with the way each player has played, this is not a bad decision for Bruce Weber. While I love Warren's potential, he has just not played well on the court (outside of his game winning shot against Wichita State) to warrant the playing time over Arnold or Pruitt. In his two minutes on Saturday afternoon, Warren mishandled a pass that hit him in the hands that would have led to an Illini dunk at a key point in the first half, and after that he was not to be seen as Weber has started to generate his tighter eight-man rotation for the season, and it looks like Warren is not going to be a huge part of it.