INDIANAPOLIS — Even Illinois’ late Tuesday arrival in Indianapolis couldn’t mitigate having an extended day to kill earlier than a ten p.m. native Wednesday tip towards Baylor.
So Illini coach Brad Underwood caught to his semi-regular routine. Sitting round within the lodge wasn’t going to chop it. Loads of time to burn earlier than heading to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the sport meant a possibility to get in a pair walks.
It was on Underwood’s return from his second stroll that he got here throughout Giorgi Bezhanishvili within the foyer of Illinois’ staff lodge. The junior ahead as keyed up forward of the fifth-ranked Illini’s matchup towards the second-ranked Bears.
“He was speaking about how uptight he was and he was nervous and had butterflies and the way a lot he cherished that,” Underwood stated. “He loves these massive video games and people moments. I knew he was prepared. I believe any good participant will get excited for these video games and has some butterflies.”
It was a superb factor Bezhanishvili was prepared. As a result of he was wanted.
Illinois’ supposed benefit towards Baylor was going to be within the put up. The Bears didn’t have a bodily match for 7-foot, 285-pound Illini heart Kofi Cockburn. That turned moot, after all, when foul bother sidelined Cockburn on the halfway level of the primary half.
Bezhanishvili stepped in. His 13 first half factors saved Illinois within the sport. They only weren’t sufficient to forestall an eventual 82-69 Baylor victory.
“I simply needed to step up,” Bezhanishvili stated. “Clearly, Kofi’s an awesome participant. He’s not going to have quite a lot of nights like this. When he does, different gamers need to step up, and it was me (Wednesday). I simply got here out prepared, stayed prepared and stepped up for him. He’s not going to have quite a lot of nights like this. I promise that.”
It was a classic efficiency for Bezhanishvili, paying homage to his breakout freshman season. The 6-9 Georgian massive man flashed the identical kind of confidence Wednesday evening as he did two years in the past sharing staff MVP honors with Ayo Dosunmu and breaking Deon Thomas’ single-game freshman scoring file.
Bezhanishvili knocked down the one three-pointer he tried, calmly stepped into one other mid-range jumper and completed 7 of 10 from the sphere total in his 15-point efficiency.
“I simply didn’t give it some thought,” Bezhanishvili stated about hitting a pair bounce pictures. “I simply went on the market and performed my coronary heart out. It type of simply occurred. I used to be not pondering, ‘Oh, I’m a shooter.’ I used to be simply flowing within the sport.”
Flowing within the sport become a throwback kind efficiency for the Illinois junior.
“Giorgi was excellent,” Underwood stated. “That’s the previous Giorgi that everyone knows and love. In a sport the place Kofi was actually a non-factor due to early fouls, Giorgi gave us a pleasant raise.
“That’s what actually good teammates do. I’ve been saying this all alongside. Kofi’s an incredible participant. We would have one of the best backup.”
That was Bezhanishvili’s position on the finish of the 2019-20 season and thru most of this season as nicely. Underwood needed to maintain them separated — and enjoying towards one another in follow — due to sophomore heart Jermaine Hamlin’s restricted early availability getting back from a hand harm.
Underwood performed Bezhanishvili and Cockburn extra collectively on the finish of final week’s sport towards Ohio and did the identical Wednesday evening towards Baylor.
“I believe each time Giorgi catches the ball within the put up he’s going to attain,” Underwood stated. “I like having that choice. … His focus was unimaginable. We bought him the ball. We saved attempting to get him the ball within the first half. When he caught it, it was both a foul or it was a bucket, and defensively he performed nice as nicely. I’m actually enthusiastic about transferring ahead with Giorgi.”
Bezhanishvili was basically the one choice within the Illinois frontcourt, although, towards Baylor. Cockburn performed simply 7 minutes within the first half earlier than choosing up his second foul with 11 minutes to play earlier than the break. A fast third foul to start out the second half despatched him proper again to the bench, and the Kingston, Jamaica, native missed out on a double-double for the primary time in 4 video games this season ending with simply seven factors and 4 rebounds.
“Maintaining him out of foul bother will assist,” Underwood stated. “It’s actually that straightforward. Generally it’s actually, actually arduous if you’ve sat so lengthy. The optimistic factor was Giorgi performed so nicely I did not must deliver him again in. I used to be ready to deliver him again in with two (fouls), however Giorgi was improbable and I used to be in a position to maintain him on the bench.”
Scott Richey is a reporter protecting school basketball at The Information-Gazette. His electronic mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll observe him on Twitter (@srrichey).