CHICAGO — During the huddles on Wednesday, Brad Underwood challenged his team by asking them a short, but pointed question: "Where the dogs at?"
It's a motivational question he uses to challenge his team in the moment and provides the players something to rally around.
The dogs, in this instance, was the Illinois men's basketball team. They could have tucked their tail between their legs and retreated to the doghouse 17 seconds into overtime in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago, facing a three-point deficit with momentum seemingly slipping away.
Guard Andres Feliz had two chances at the end of regulation to avoid overtime altogether. His first shot attempt was blocked, then with 1.6 seconds left his second try out of a timeout smacked off the backboard to go to overtime.
To make matters worse for Illinois, Northwestern's Aaron Falzon hit a 3-pointer 17 seconds into the overtime. Then came a key 8-0 Illinois run that was instrumental in a 74-69 overtime win to advance out of the first round and into Thursday's second round. The Illini will play Iowa at 8:25 p.m. Thursday in the final game of the day.
"To miss the lay-up at the end and then have them open the overtime with the three probably is the thing that makes me the happiest," Underwood said. "It would have been very, very easy to just roll over and lay down, and we just kept hanging in there."
The Illini (12-20) hung in there thanks, in large part, to its trio of guards — Feliz, Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu. They attacked against a Northwestern team that was without leading scorer Vic Law. Feliz crashed the lane and sprayed out to Frazier and Dosunmu who each hit a 3-pointer in the extra frame.
Frazier scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half or overtime. Those points were needed after big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili fouled out at the end of regulation. He was a torn in the side of Northwestern all night, scoring 26 points, including the first 14 Illini points, with four rebounds.
Then, when the season was on the line, he was relegated to a spectator on the bench. Nary was there a moment that Bezhanishvili wasn't standing, clapping or swinging his towel over his head. He was just as invested from his spot on the bench.
"I was just excited for my teammates to be out there, you know, and I saw the look in their faces in the timeout," he said. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'm not worried. We're going to win this game.' I was so confident in my teammates because I saw the look. Once you see that look in the faces of the players, you know they're doing their thing out there. Trent hits one three, Ayo hits a three, we get the stops. It was a great feeling."
He rebounded from the last meeting against Northwestern 10 days prior, where he scored 12 points with seven rebounds, but struggled against Wildcats big man Dererk Pardon. At that point, Bezhanishvili was fighting through a sinus infection that impacted his play for nearly 10 days.
There didn't appear to be any residual side effects of that on Wednesday. He danced through the paint and shook defenders for clean looks at the hoop.
"I think what makes him is his quickness and agility in the post," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "You look at him, and he's a big, strong guy, but his foot work, he makes quick moves. His ability to pivot. You think you've got him under control, and he can kind of slither around you and find angles. You know, he's a terrific player, terrific player. He's gotten better throughout the course of this whole season."
The rest of the heroics belonged to Frazier. His 21 points were the most he's scored since turning in 30 against Minnesota on Jan. 30. His shots gave Illinois a lead or tied the game four times in the final 10 minutes of regulation and in overtime.
He canned a 3-pointer from the corner off of a perfect pass from Feliz with 10:06 left in regulation to tie the game. His runner with 7:21 left in regulation gave Illinois a 1-point lead. A layup with 2:51 left in regulation have the Illini a two-point lead and his 3-pointer with 2:57 left in overtime gave Illinois a lead it never gave back.
To top it off, he played nearly 41 minutes without a turnover.
"I kind of let the game come to me," Frazier said. "I didn't want to force any shots. Just play my game, do what I do. Like I said, the team, they trust me down the stretch to make a play for myself and my teammates. That's what I did. These younger guys, they're incredible."