CHAMPAIGN — Shooting comes and goes on a nightly basis.
Some nights the most difficult shots find a way of falling. Some nights wide-open 3-pointers clank off the rim. Illinois freshman Alan Griffin has been around the game long enough to know that his shot — as good as it is — may not always be there.
When those shots don't fall, he's well aware that there other ways to contribute on the floor. Griffin, a 6-foot-5 guard, dives on loose balls, finds his way into rebounds in traffic and recently has improved on the defensive end leading to steals and blocked shots.
But that doesn't mean he's going to stop shooting.
“Shooters shoot," Griffin said. "Just because it’s not falling doesn’t mean stop. If you stop, you never know if the next one is going in or not. You always have to have that confidence to keep shooting."
It's all led to more game minutes. Head coach Brad Underwood indicated prior to last week's game against Ohio State that Griffin had great practices. Teammates Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu later seconded that assertion. As a result Griffin was one of the first two subs off the bench in that game and was again in Monday's loss at Wisconsin.
Griffin scored five points and recorded a block in 10 minutes, 45 seconds at Wisconsin, scoring five consecutive points during a stretch in the second half. The first two came when he blew by forward Ethan Happ for a layup and the next three came on an open 3-pointer right in front of the Illinois bench. It was the first three Griffin had made since Feb. 2 against Nebraska and his fifth in the 2019 calendar year. Griffin is averaging 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds in 7.9 minutes this season.
Seeing a few shots go in against Wisconsin got the Illinois bench on its feet.
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“Alan’s been really good in practice," Underwood said on Monday. "He deserves the minutes he’s getting. He’s a guy whose natural instincts are very, very good. He’s struggled shooting it, so I was really happy to see him get one down (Monday). He’s gaining confidence. He’s a talented, talented offensive player. He makes plays because of his length and athleticism defensively and he’s got a better understanding."
The increase in Griffin's minutes coincides with an increase in confidence. He stuck with the plan, even without getting a ton of minutes midway through the season.
“It’s grown a lot," Griffin said of his confidence. "I see the growth throughout the year. All the coaches are helping me grow so it’s nice."
He's fitting into his role as a long defender off the bench who stretches the floor — a crucial need for the Illini as Giorgi Bezhanishvili sees more double teams in the post and looks to kick out to shooters around him. Eventually, there's confidence that those shots that aren't falling now will fall. After the Ohio State game, Underwood acknowledged as much, saying that the missed shots won't be something that lasts very long.
Until then, Griffin is perfectly content doing the little things and being in position to make winning plays. Few plays in a game get Underwood as excited as when he sees a player sliding across the floor fighting for the possession.
“He’s done a great job buying into his role," senior Aaron Jordan said. "He’s been in the gym and trying to watch film, just trying to get better. He knows he has to be a star in this role to help this team."
Griffin has been lauded for his play, and, according to Underwood, he's just scratching the surface.
“We haven’t seen the top with him. We’re not even close," Underwood said.