Nichols, Frazier lift Illinois over Rutgers 91-60
By JAMES BOYD
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) With one of Illinois' greatest players in attendance, Trent Frazier made sure to put on a show at the State Farm Center. He knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half, including a personal 9-0 run, as former Illini Deron Williams applauded from a courtside seat.
Frazier finished with 17 points and four assists, helping lead Illinois (12-11, 2-8 Big Ten Conference) to a 91-60 victory Tuesday night. He has scored in double figures for six consecutive games, averaging 17.7 points during that stretch.
"Obviously, midway through the first half Trent just went bonkers," coach Brad Underwood said. "That was fun to watch. But he's capable of that."
The Illini also had a strong performance from Kipper Nichols. In the second start of his career, the first of this season, he poured in a team-high 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. He shot 7 of 12 from the field and a perfect 4 for 4 from the free-throw line.
Nichols has had an inconsistent sophomore season with eight games of 14 points or more, and nine games with five points or less. However, over the last three games he's gotten into a groove, averaging 19.3 points a game.
"There's a dimension he brings to our team," Underwood said. "When Kipper does the little things. . His game will go to a whole new level."
Illinois pressured the ball all night, scoring 37 points off of a season-high 25 turnovers by Rutgers. The Illini also outscored the Scarlet Knights 11-5 in fast break points.
Rutgers (12-12. 2-9) entered the contest averaging a Big Ten-worst 66.7 points per game and it showed. The Scarlet Knights went roughly 10 minutes in the first half without a made field goal and shot just 42.2 percent from the field.
Corey Sanders is Rutgers' leading scorer, but he struggled for the second consecutive game. He was held scoreless last week against Penn State and followed it up with a 10-point performance against Illinois. Over his past two games he has made just three shots on 19 attempts.
"Corey's working at it," coach Steve Pikiell said. "He's going through a bit of a (rough patch) but I loved him tonight. He played good defense, he played hard."
Geo Baker led the Scarlet Knights with 19 points, while the Illini had five players score in double digits.
Rutgers has now lost 11 straight conference road games and has won only one since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
The 31-point victory earned Illinois its first Big Ten winning streak since March of last season.
Illinois: Leron Black and Frazier have carried the scoring load for most of the year, but over the last few games Nichols has emerged as a legitimate third option.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights only recorded six assists against the Illini and will continue to struggle in conference play if they don't find a way to space the floor and get more players involved.
Illinois will hit the road and face No. 17 Ohio State on Sunday. The Buckeyes are led by Keita Bates-Diop, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19.9 points per game.
Rutgers returns home Saturday to face No. 3 Purdue. The Boilermakers are 10-0 in Big Ten play.
Williams returned to campus and watched Illinois play for the first time since going pro nearly 13 years ago. He is a three-time NBA All-Star and won gold medals with Team USA in 2008 and 2012. However, at his alma mater Williams is best known for his 3-pointer that helped propel the Illini into the Final Four in 2005.
"He's done things that everyone in the locker room aspires to do and dreams about," Underwood said. "To me he's the ultimate winner."
Sanders is now 11th all-time in Rutgers history with 128 steals. He had four steals against the Illini and has totaled 36 steals this season. He is also just two points away from moving past Jamal Phillips and becoming the Scarlet Knight's 23rd all-time leading scorer.
"I'm not a guy that believes in 0-0 at the half," Underwood said. "That's one of the most false statements ever. It's not true. It's hard to get kids to buy into that. . Let's go out and play the game the right way, with the right effort and let's maintain what we do."
Updated January 30, 2018