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Illinois looks to put exhibition loss behind as season begins

The Illini host the Southern Jaguars on Friday night to open the regular season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Fighting Illini will be looking to make improvements before their season opener against the Southern Jaguars on Friday night.

After what some would say was an embarrassing exhibition loss to the Eastern Illinois Panthers last Friday, junior forward Michael Finke and his team are looking to enhance their play.

“We’re definitely getting better,” Finke said. “I think that’s been the biggest emphasis, trying to focus on us and stuff we didn’t do as well on Friday.”

Needed improvements

Finke said that the team needs to improve playing more together as a whole, specifically in the rebounding department.

“As a team, keep crashing on the boards and play together,” Finke said. “A lot of times we were playing 1-on-1 type stuff, just getting the ball down there and kind of go in and do whatever we wanted instead of getting into our motion offense, our spread offense, running our plays.

“[We were] just playing hero ball sometimes, so just playing more as a team is the big thing.”

The rough practice afterwards

Normally, the practice after a disappointing loss is not the most “easy-going” one of the year, and this was no different for the Illini.

“It was great for me,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood joked. “The one thing that is challenging is that we have to grow. We have to find a competitive drive to win and I think the one thing that bothered me the most about Eastern, and we can correct the X’s and O’s, was the simple hustle plays.”

An example Underwood used from the EIU game was that the Illini avoided taking five charges in the game and that little plays like that that can change the outcome of game.

When asked if there was a lot of running in the practice after the exhibition, sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas responded immediately.

“Definitely, he definitely got on us,” Lucas said. “It’s part of the game. We did a lot of film; strive to tell guys to get some film and go upstairs to get some extra film with the coaches. Just trying to learn on our mistakes.”

Jaguars scouting report

Southern finished fourth in the SWAC last season with a 15-18 overall record and won 10 of its 18 conference games. The Jaguars defeated Jackson State in the first round of the SWAC Tournament, but they were knocked out by Alcorn State the following game.

Underwood noted junior guard Eddie Reese and senior forward Jared Sam as players to watch out for in the game.

“(Reese) is very capable of scoring a lot of points,” Underwood said. “They got a big kid (Sam) on the block. He is a very, very capable scorer on the block, so he’ll give our bigs a challenge down there.”

With this being his first game as the Illini head coach, Underwood said there will be some jitters when he steps out onto that court for the first time Friday, but he is just ready to get the season underway.

“Southern University, a team that will present some challenges, a team that was picked toward the top of their conference, a team that is very capable of scoring a lot of points,” Underwood said. “And yet I’m very excited to throw it up and to have it mean something.”