CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- No matter where it’s coming from, Illinois is getting production from its wings off the bench.
Whether it’s Alan Griffin or Da'Monte Williams, Illinois third-year head coach Brad Underwood has consistently said over the last week that he’s pleased with the effort and execution in several phases that he’s getting from the 3-spot off his bench.
Williams scored a career-high 18 points in a 117-65 blowout win over Division-II Lindenwood Tuesday night. Williams, who is the player who Underwood took responsibility for the Peoria native’s confidence level dipping last season, is averaging career highs in shooting percentage (45 percent, 9 of 20) and rebounds per game (4.3).
''Da'Monte is a great player,'' Illinois sophomore Ayo Dosunmu said. ''I see him in the gym every day. He puts the work in.''
Griffin saw his production and his minutes dip severely in Big Ten Conference play. The then-freshman only saw a double-digit minute total in five games after Jan. 1. In his 64 career games and 21 starts in an Illini jersey before this 2019-20 season, Williams had only scored in double figures four times and converted just 34 percent of his field goals last season. In his entire college career, Williams has never attempted more than nine shots and has only twice converted multiple three-point field goals in a game.
When Underwood decided to start Dosunmu, junior Trent Frazier and senior Andres Feliz at the perimeter spots, the third-year head coach knew he’d need production from either Griffin or Williams off his bench, which he has always valued.
“Now we need that consistently and Da'Monte is a big part of our basketball team,” Underwood said on Nov. 20. “Da'Monte is so versatile that we need him to be a major contributor. Both of those guys are elite rebounders and their position and we need that. Those guys can come in and clean up a lot of balls and create a lot of extra possessions and get baskets for themselves. We need that from a consistent night to night basis.”
The one aspect Griffin, who did not play Tuesday against Lindenwood, has been able to provide is beyond the three-point line. Griffin has made a three-pointer in each of Illinois’ previous five wins before Tuesday night. The nine three-point shots Griffin, who is 9 of 26 this season, has connected with are just five short of what he converted throughout the entire 2018-19 campaign.
Griffin, who only averaged eight minutes per game last season, has also provided a lift on the glass and (4.2 rebounds per game and third on the team in offensive rebounds with 12). Griffin has 14 rebounds in the last three games and is getting 20 percent of his shots this season on offensive putbacks. Both of these players provide depth in terms of rebounding, defense and the ability to still handle the basketball without committing turnovers with a consistently small offensive lift.
''Coach always says it's the little things that win games,'' Williams said. ''So I go out there and do the little things.''