CHAMPAIGN — Mistakes were expected for the University of Illinois men’s basketball team.
On a team with eight newcomers, six being freshman, head coach Brad Underwood knew Friday’s exhibition game against Illinois Wesleyan was going to come with growing pains.
But Illinois simply had the talent and the guards to put away Division III Illinois Wesleyan 83-67 at the State Farm Center in the final dress rehearsal before opening the season at 7 p.m. Thursday at home against Evansville.
There were turnovers, missed defensive rotations leading to a barrage of Wesleyan 3-pointers and missed shots from nearly the whole Illinois team — except junior college transfer Andres Feliz.
"For a lot of our freshman right now, the game is sped up in their mind," Underwood said. "For him it's not. ... He finds a lot of ways to score the basketball and he's also a guy who knows every play we do and every set we do and where everybody is supposed to be — not just himself. That's pretty unique for a newcomer."
Feliz drove to the lane with ease and finished through traffic on the way to 20 points and five rebounds off the bench.
“I’m open for the team,” Feliz said. “Whatever coach asks me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. If that means coming off the bench and playing one minute in the game, I’m going to give it all to the team. That’s the kind of player I am.”
Feliz scored in a variety of ways, including off and running in transition. He controlled his body in the paint for a variety of layups and floaters.
He's a steady presence after a long career of international play and two years of junior college basketball.
"He brings a lot to this team," sophomore guard Trent Frazier said. "Not a lot of people notice that, but he's very vocal, he's very competitive and he gets after it every day. Me and him push each other all the time."
For all of the front court size and experience the Illini lack, they made up for it with guard play. Frazier scored 19 points and had five assists.
Frazier knocked down three 3-pointers for the Illini, who made eight as a team.
“I tried to get going early so I could put myself in a good position for the team when we were struggling on offense,” Frazier said. “Other than that, my main focus tonight was to try to get these young guys going. It was the first real game in front of the crowd. My main focus was to be more vocal out there, just trying to get these guys going on defense.”
This isn't the same Trent Frazier who scored two points on 1-of-5 shooting in last season's loss at Eastern. Frazier opened fast with a transition 3-pointer. He's got more than enough confidence after a strong freshman season in the Big Ten.
"My confidence is incredible right now," Frazier said.
Five star freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu scored 13 points after missing his first three shots. Dosunmu had five assists and four turnovers.
After trailing 40-23 at halftime, Illinois Wesleyan scored 44 points in the second half, connecting on 10 3-pointers.
Charlie Bair found himself open in front of the Wesleyan bench time and again in the second half, burying three of his four triples after halftime on the way to a team-high 16 points. Brady Rose added 14 points and six rebounds.
"Give Illinois Wesleyan a tremendous amount of credit," Underwood said. "They made shots. Not to discredit anything they did, most of it was our philosophical breakdowns. For the first five or six threes anyway.
"We've got to get some of these freshmen thinking more about the defensive end."
The Titans forced 17 Illini turnovers, but turned it over 29 times.
This game was more about the competition, and the lessons Wesleyan can draw from a game in Champaign, after playing Division I University of Illinois-Chicago on Thursday.
"It's a confidence booster," Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said. "No one pressures like Illinois at the Division I level, much less our level. We turned it over and got a little quick with the ball at times, but at the same time, I thought we really competed. When we get back to our level I think it's going to bode well for us."
Illinois freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvli got the start and scored nine points on two 3-pointers and three free throws while battling foul trouble. He picked up his third foul 10 seconds into the second half.
When he’s on the court, the offense runs smooth. Illinois had a stretch of 3 minutes, 52 seconds in the second half without a point.
"Giorgi is going to be a really, really good player and I'm his biggest fan," Underwood said. "I need him on the court more than 14 minutes. He loves physicality. He's the one guy who doesn't run from it. He is seeking it out. That being said, you've got to play with some intelligence."
Kipper Nichols was a 1-of-10 shooting with three points and four rebounds for Illinois.