CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois opened its season with eight straight Big Ten losses. It tied the worst conference start in school history, and included seven losses by 10 points or less.
Early on Wednesday night, it looked as if it would be more of the same for the Illini.The Hoosiers made six of their first nine shots, leading to a quick 14-6 lead.
But freshman Trent Frazier kept the Illini afloat in the first half. With just over six minutes left in the period, he reeled off 13 straight points. He finished with 19 points and a team-high three assists to help Illinois squeeze out a 73-71 victory over Indiana.
"We just celebrated in the locker room," Frazier said. "It feels good, man. . We're finally building that (winning) culture."
The two-point victory was the team's first Big 10 Conference win of the season and the first of coach Brad Underwood's career. It also snapped the Illini's six-game losing streak.
"What do you want to call it?" Underwood asked. "We finally got the gorilla, the monkey, the piano gets lifted off (our) back. . You get a better feeling when you leave the building."
Leron Black also had a big night for the Illini. He scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half and reached double figures for the 18th time this season.
At halftime, Illinois (11-11, 1-8) trailed by six and had only two free throw attempts. But in the final period, Illinois made 22-of-30 free throws and forced 11 turnovers to outscore the Hoosiers 41-33. The biggest shot of the game came from Kipper Nichols with just over two minutes to play.
Leading by three, Illinois swung the ball to Nichols for a wide open look. He buried the long jumper and the fans at State Farm Center erupted as he put the Illini ahead by two possessions.
That six-point lead proved to be big, as Indiana cut the lead to two with just 8.3 seconds left. Frazier had the chance to seal the deal, but missed two free throws, leaving Indiana (12-9, 5-4) an opportunity to tie or win the game. But on the Hoosiers final possession, Devonte Green turned it over while trying to pass to Juwan Morgan.
"They really forced the action in the second half and took control of the game," coach Archie Miller said. "It's in evidence by their second-half free throw numbers that they were much more aggressive."
Morgan led Indiana with 25 points, his seventh 20-point game of the season, and Zach McRoberts scored a season-high 10 points.
Illinois had four players score in double figures.
Illinois finally got over the hump and finally secured a conference victory. After several close losses in Big 10 play, it is a step in the right direction for a young team.
Robert Johnson came in as Indiana's second-leading scorer at 13.9 points but was held to just eight. The Hoosiers will need their senior guard to play better if they want to get back on track in conference play.
Illinois has nearly a week off until it faces Rutgers at home next Tuesday. The Scarlet Knights have three players averaging over 11 points per game.
Indiana plays its next game against Purdue on Sunday. The Boilermakers, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, are 8-0 in Big Ten play.
With his eight points, Johnson is two points away from moving up to No. 30 on the Indiana all-time scoring list. He has now scored 1,264 points in his career.
Underwood and Miller are both first-year head coaches in the Big Ten. Miller is the 29th coach head coach in Indiana history, while Underwood is the 18th head coach in Illinois history. Wednesday's matchup was the first head-to-head match of their careers. They'll meet again on Feb. 14.
COACHES VS. CANCER
Both teams' coaching staff wore sneakers during the game in support of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Week, backed by the American Cancer Society and National Association of Basketball Coaches. The goal of the 25-year campaign is to increase cancer awareness and raise money towards cancer treatment and research.
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