Nicholls pushes Illinois to brink, edged in overtime

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Nicholls at Illinois MBB
(Photo: Justin Casterline)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Nicholls State University men’s basketball program (0-1, 0-0 Southland) orchestrated a tenacious come-from-behind performance in Tuesday night’s season opener at the University of Illinois (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten), overcoming a 20-point second-half deficit — not to mention seizing a two-point lead with under two minutes remaining — before ultimately falling in overtime by a 78-70 final mark at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.

After sitting out last season due to transfer restrictions, redshirt senior G Dexter McClanahan put together a dangerous highlight reel in his official inauguration donning the Red & Gray, closing out the night with a game-high 25 points along with three assists & one steal. Notably, the Georgia native erupted into the action midway through the second half after a lackluster first period (five points), scoring the final 10 of a 14-point Nicholls run that knotted the game at 64 apiece with 1:53 remaining in regulation.

— The Colonels’ season debut proved a tale of two halves, as a sound defensive effort in the first — despite some rusty shooting (8-of-27, 29.6 percent) — kept the contest within reach before an offensive explosion late in the second half (18-of-33, 54.6 percent) forced the eventual overtime. Despite a disjointed showing across the final 10 minutes of regulation, the Fighting Illini managed to recover in OT primarily due to senior Andres Feliz, who notched seven of the squad’s 12 points while pulling down two boards. The Dominican Republic native finished the game with one of the two double-doubles, notching a team-high 23 points along with 11 rebounds.
— Senior F Elvis Harvey Jr. anchored the Colonels’ frontcourt throughout the matchup, ranking second on the team with 16 points while picking up two rebounds & one block. Notably, the forward drilled back-to-back clutch free throws with just 1:24 left in the second half, granting the Red & Gray their only advantage of the night after trailing for over 27 minutes (10-10 tie at 11:17 left in first half).
— Fellow returner G Kevin Johnson also posted a decent performance as the junior paced the Nicholls backcourt, wrapping up the game with four steals, four points & a team-high seven assists.
— Similar to McClanahan, both redshirt junior G Andre Jones & sophomore G Lorenzo McGhee made their career debuts with the Colonels against Illinois; the former — an Arkansas-Little Rock transfer — showcased extreme athleticism on a number of occasions, tallying eight points with one steal across 21 minutes of action.
— Sophomore F Warith Alatishe flew under the radar in an ultra-competitive start for the Houston native, silently leading the Red & Gray in rebounds (10), steals (5) & blocks (2) while tacking on eight points of his own. Throughout the contest, Alatishe consistently found himself rubbing shoulders with Illini center Kofi Cockburn (7-0, 290 lbs) & forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (6-9, 235 lbs), containing the duo to a combined 21 points, 15 boards & two blocks.
— Beyond the arc, junior G Jeremiah Buford proved lethal in multiple key situations for the Colonels, knocking down 3-of-5 (60 percent) from downtown as the Atlanta native posted nine points.
— Despite a few notable physical advantages in favor of the host Fighting Illini, the Red & Gray refused to dial back their physical defensive play & relentless attack on offense. As such, four Colonels exited the game after breaching the foul limit, including two during regulation — redshirt senior G D’Angelo Hunter & Jones — & another pair late in overtime — McClanahan & Johnson.

With the season opener against Big Ten contender Illinois concluded, the Colonels must immediately shift focus to the year’s second major test: ACC powerhouse Pitt, tipoff against the Panthers scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. in Pittsburgh, Pa.

For more information on Colonels Men’s Basketball, follow the team on Twitter (@Nicholls_MBB), Instagram (@geauxcolonels) and like their Facebook page (Nicholls Athletics).

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