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Shorthanded Illini survive season-opening slog with Jackson State

Down their three best players, Brad Underwood opened the bench in a sluggish, sloppy game.

Twitter: @IlliniMBB

It’s difficult to put much stock into Tuesday’s regular season opener against Jackson State. Mostly because the game resembled the previous exhibition games more than the upcoming regular season.

In front of fans at State Farm Center for the first time in 20 months, and without Kofi, Trent, Curbelo, or Hutcherson, No. 11 Illinois battled and held off Jackson State in a sluggish season opener, with the Illini winning 71-47.

Illinois quickly gained a double-digit lead on a 12-0 run and never looked back, punctuated by a 21-2 lead and 24-point victory. Missing two point guards and the nation’s best player, however, Brad Underwood’s crew clearly wasn’t itself.

Though the Illini pulled away late, they spent much of the game grinding out defensive stops and searching for a go-to ballhandler and scorer. At times, Illinois turned to Coleman Hawkins to bring the ball up and relied on freshmen RJ Melendez, Luke Goode, and Brandin Podziemski to play significant minutes. Did we mention it felt like an exhibition?

In the grand scheme of the season, Tuesday’s game against the Tigers won’t make any highlights, but returning to a full stadium and kicking off the third consecutive year of relevant, compelling Illinois Basketball is surely a nice consolation.

By far the biggest takeaway of the game (beyond The Bosman’s dominance) is the Illini now being one game closer to the return of Kofi Cockburn from suspension and Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo, and Austin Hutcherson from injury. Just survive until reinforcements arrive.

TWEET OF THE GAME

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

This was how this game went mostly, to be honest.

Who let Ayo back in?

UP NEXT

Another buy game, this time Friday night at 8 p.m. against Arkansas State. That game will only be available online on BTN+.