Andres Feliz scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Ayo Dosunmu scored 21 points, and Illinois overcame a sluggish second half to escape in overtime, 78-70, Tuesday against Nicholls State in the opener for both teams.
The Illini held the visiting Colonels to just 19 points in the first half at State Farm Arena. Behind a stout defensive effort, Illinois’ lead swelled to as much as 17 points in the early second half.
But behind guard Dexter McClanahan, Nicholls State chipped away at the Illinois lead over the final 13 minutes. McClanahan, who scored 25 points, ignited a 16-0 run over the last five minutes.
Turnovers and missed free throws plagued Illinois during that spell. The Illini coughed up possession 23 times and shot just 19-of-29 from the foul line.
McClanahan made consecutive 3-pointers that forced a tie with fewer than three minutes remaining, then a pair of Elvis Harvey Jr. free throws gave the Colonels the lead. Harvey scored 16 points.
Illinois’ drought ended on two Trent Frazier free throws, which were enough to force overtime. The host Illini took control in the extra frames, outscoring Nicholls State, 12-4.
Their collective length proved too much for the Colonels out of the Southland Conference, most notably resulting in a 53-23 rebounding edge. Both Feliz and Kofi Coburn recorded double-doubles. Coburn finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. His second rejection came early into overtime with Illinois holding a two-point lead and trying to gain separation.
Illinois held Nicholls State to just 40.9 percent shooting from the floor. The Colonels attempted just nine free throws, making eight.
Tuesday’s season opener kicked off Illinois’ third season under coach Brad Underwood. The Illini finished 11-21 in 2018-19, the program’s worst season by win percentage since 1974-75.
Returning a veteran corps including Feliz and Dosunmu, Illinois was picked in the upper half of the preseason Big Ten Conference poll.
—Field Level Media