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Illinois 102, Southern 55: What We Learned

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Top takeaways from a dominating first game for Brad Underwood’s Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Southern at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The start to the Brad Underwood era went as well as anyone could possibly ask. Illinois defeated the Southern Jaguars 102-55. The team dominated the Jaguars in every area of the game. Here are the top things we learned from the first win in 2017-18.

1. Aggressiveness on both ends

The key word that Brad Underwood preaches is aggressiveness, and that showed in his first game in charge tonight. Illinois outplayed, out-hustled, and outmatched the Jaguars on both ends of the floor.

Illinois was relentless in attacking the basket and went to the line 37 times. Thirty-four of the 102 points came from free throws. This was the most free throws Illinois made since 2010-11.

Illinois won the rebounding battle 42-26 and grabbed 14 offensive boards. Mark Alstork has 5 offensive rebounds as a guard, crashing the glass with great enthusiasm. He finished his Illini debut with a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).

Illinois was great defensively all night. Underwood had his guards pressuring the ball high in the halfcourt, and Illinois’ constant pressure forced Southern into 22 turnovers — and the Illini capitalized with 33 points off those turnovers.

This was a much different team from the one we saw at the end of John Groce’s tenure. The aggressive mindset showed up in a big way after a disappointing exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois one week ago. Underwood will hope the team can keep this up all season.

2. Balanced attack

Illinois does not have a go-to scoring option like they have had in years past with Malcolm Hill and Brandon Paul. To make up for that, a team needs to keep a balanced attack with unselfish play.

Illinois did that tonight with five players reaching double-digit points, led by 17 from Alstork and Aaron Jordan. Ten players in total scored, and Southern was never able to keen in on any one player. Illinois was able to move the ball around quickly and create many different scoring chances.

Not every team will be as easy for Illinois to score on, but the balanced attack was fantastic for the first game of the season.

3. Illinois only shot 19% from 3, but....

Illinois only shot 4-of-21 from three-point range (19 percent), but the team was still able to put up 102 points. Despite the long range struggles, Illinois shot over 50 percent and hit its two-point attempts at a 66.6 percent clip.

In the John Groce era, if illinois was not hitting the three-point shot, the offense struggled to get anything going. Underwood’s offense is versatile in finding ways to score and not depending on any one area of the court.

Illinois will need to shoot better from three if they want a shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament and compete in Big Ten play. The Illini won’t shoot this poorly each night and will improve. Still, it’s great to see the team able to shrug off their poor long range shooting and put up 102 points.

Illinois will be back in action on Sunday at 5 p.m. from the State Farm Center when the Illini host Tennessee-Martin.