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Illinois with some new wrinkles coming out of loss to Ohio State

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CHAMPAIGN — Illinois had it’s Big Ten title hopes take a dent in Thursday’s loss to Ohio State, but the performance did come with a couple silver linings.

The No. 15 Illini now have a couple more wrinkles stemming from a late comeback that fell short and a player getting out of a small shooting slump. Those will come into play more when Illinois takes on Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sunday.

Alfonso Plummer, the Big Ten’s leader in made 3s, had a mini-slump shooting 0-for-7 from outside the past two games. It was the first time he had gone multiple games without making a 3, but he came back around with a 26-point outburst Thursday. He tied the school record with eight made 3s.

He’s someone who can stretch the defense and make tough shots to keep the offense afloat.

“I’m proud. I’m never satisfied though,” Plummer said. Other people think like oh, you’re doing great like, like you should be happy over what you’re doing. I’m happy but I’m not satisfied. I feel like I’ve got more in my tank.”

Plummer has adapted quickly to his role as a grad transfer to become a key rotation piece during his only year in Champaign.

“The biggest challenge is how much can you change and mold guys in a year? That’s the hardest thing to do,” Coach Brad Underwood said. “Having the success he’s had, you commend him because it’s really hard to do.”

That ability and the ability of outside shooters like Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison has created two main types of styles the Illini like to play: inside to Kofi Cockburn and outside to shooters. On nights where the offense has been at its best, those two styles have been in sync.

Lately it has just been one or the other, with Cockburn having an off night on Thursday and shooters trading slumps over the past month.

“Some of our best offensive sequences have been with Plummer and Trent going,” Underwood said. “... We’re still trying to find that right balance.”

Besides Plummer’s shooting, the biggest boon for the team was its five-out sets and full court press with Coleman Hawkins as a stretch-five. Hawkins was able to attack other bigs off the bounce, find cutters and be aggressive to help force turnovers in a full court press.

“Coleman’s a guy that we can do different things with,” Underwood said. “His passing, his ability to drive the basketball. He’s finally learned to foot jump stop. That worked out great for him in the Ohio State game.”

Follow Anderson Kimball on Twitter at: byAndy Kimball


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