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Illinois set to return to action after “much-needed” break

The Illini are aiming to start a new winning streak.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After an embarrassing loss to a talented Indiana team, the Illini had their first day off since New Year’s Day on Friday. After getting back at it over the weekend, Illinois now looks to get back on track Tuesday against Ohio State.

“We’ll have to play exceptionally well to beat this team,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Against any of the 13 teams in this league right now, if you don’t play well you’re going to lose.”

Underwood and RJ Melendez met with the media before practice Monday afternoon. While OSU’s record may not look intimidating (11-8, 3-5 Big Ten), they are still a very talented team.

“When they’re really good, they’re elite in transition,” Underwood said. “They play really fast. Zed Key is an outstanding rim rummer.”

Ohio State is third in scoring and second in rebounding in the Big Ten. Illinois is going to have to keep them off the offensive glass if they want to avoid trouble against the Buckeyes.

After Luke Goode’s injury and Skyy Clark’s leave, Illinois hasn’t found much consistency in its starting five from game to game.

Following early struggles, Melendez has found his place playing much more effectively coming off the bench.

“When I’m coming in as the sixth man, I’ll see some stuff on the court that could help the team out,” Melendez said. “Like the way they’re playing, maybe on offense I can see some of the gaps if I’m outside of the court.”

Underwood praised Melendez’s recent play, emphasizing his hard work and being lockdown on defense.

“Defense translates to offense,” Melendez said. “If I play hard on the defensive side I feel like things are going to open up for me on the offensive side.”

With Goode looking to return to practice in the next week or so, his impact and ability to fit into the lineup will have a big role in Illinois’ potential success going down this stretch of play in a grueling Big Ten conference.