November basketball can be ugly at times – just ask anybody who watched DePaul take on Illinois on Friday night. In the final matchup of the 2017 Gavitt Tip-Off Games, the Big East had an opportunity to win outright with a DePaul victory. Illinois, meanwhile, was attempting to preserve a tie for the Big Ten. The Illini wound up prevailing, and for the third straight year, the Gavitt Games ended in a 4-4 stalemate.
Much of the game looked similar to a YMCA pickup game. 59 personal fouls were assessed, along with a double technical foul in the first half. The teams combined for 34 offensive rebounds, and DePaul lost guard Devin Gage to an ankle injury.
Freshman standout Justin Roberts kept DePaul in it with a 19-point performance. But, Illinois had a couple of standout performances as well: Kipper Nichols had a career-high 16 points, and freshman guard Mark Smith had 21 points while shooting 12-12 from the free throw line.
Justin Roberts could become a star for the Blue Demons
Roberts had his first solid performance as a Blue Demon. With multiple players in foul trouble and Devin Gage injured, Roberts saw an increase in playing time. He made the most of it. He scored 19 and displayed versatility as a scorer, making three 3-pointers, four 2-pointers, and two free throws. He also added five rebounds and five assists while only turning the ball over once. Roberts will be a player to watch going forward.
Eli Cain must be better for DePaul
Eli Cain’s early season struggles continued at Illinois. Cain averaged just under 16 points per game last season, and was expected to play a major role for DePaul this year. So far he has struggled, and Saturday’s game was his worst yet as he shot 2-9 and looked out of control taking it to the basket. Cain’s improvement is essential for the Blue Demons.
Free throws will be important this year
Free throws have always been important, but rule changes this season are causing referees to call more fouls. DePaul and Illinois both shot pretty well from the stripe in this game (77.8 percent for DePaul, 75 percent for Illinois), but the high volume of free throws could have impacted the game in a big way had one team shot better or worse. Teams that shoot a high free throw percentage this season will have a big advantage.