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The Significance of the Illini Freshmen

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Jan 31, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ty Rodgers (20) steals the ball from Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Sam Griesel (5) during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois needed a significant jolt from their freshmen.

On January 31st, Illinois overcame a freezing cold shooting night to be the Nebraska Cornhuskers 72-56. The score does not represent the performance by the Fighting Illini. Illinois shot 5-29 from 3, and seemed a little lost on the offensive end. They continued to throw up three point shots despite their poor shooting percentage. Defensively, Illinois had a rather poor night. Sam Griesel seemed to get wherever he wanted, and the effort could be described by Brad Underwood’s post-halftime reaction.

The Illini head man was seen sitting on the bench with 7 minutes left in the halftime break. You can almost guarantee that the Illini head coach was pretty ticked off by the defensive effort. There was a stretch, however, which catalyzed the comfortable looking victory. That stretch was lead by the three true Freshmen.

Sencire Harris and Ty Rodgers won us the game.

I do not think we expected to say this throughout the season, but I do not think this game is won without Ty Rodgers and Sencire Harris.  The two combined for 15 points (7-7 fg), 10 rebounds and 4 steals. This was significant for tonight since Mayer, Shannon and Dainja struggled with their shots tonight. Ty Rodgers had 6 offensive rebounds on his own. Rodgers just continued to grab rebounds at opportune times, and was seen crashing the glass at every opportunity. Rodgers is really coming into his own as a guy that just plays super hard, much like Sencire Harris has done.

Sencire Harris has a way of just injecting a shot of caffeine into the team. He always seems to be running the wing on a fast break that started from a steal he created. Harris played 14 minutes, however had 2 great steals. If both of these two freshmen continue to develop, Illinois will have two long and athletic wings in their future.

Do not forget Jayden Epps.

Jayden Epps struggled shooting the ball tonight, but he just does an outstanding job making the correct decision. Epps always seems to have a timely floater in a time of need. He also does an outstanding job setting up the offense in a calm and collected manner.

Illinois did not have its best performance tonight, but a win is a win. They move to 7-4 in conference play leading into a marquee matchup in Iowa City vs the Hawkeyes. They will certainly need to bring their A-game on the road, but with their three freshmen showing these signs, I am confident they will.

Alex is the Owner of Armchairillini.com, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is a Resident Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Northwestern Medicine and has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS sports and more.

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