The Illini took care of business on home court Tuesday night against Ohio State, winning 69-60. Illinois was firing on all cylinders and pulled away in the second half in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score may show.
It’s on nights like these that everyone gets reminded why Illini fans had high expectations coming into the season, and it’s confusing as to why we don’t see this every time.
One thing that had aided the Illini in the past three successful seasons was roster continuity and leadership with Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams. With the infusion of talent via the transfer portal this offseason, those losses were relatively swept under the rug. Both of those guys always came up big in the clutch and set the tone on defense for Brad Underwood’s teams.
On nights when stars like Ayo and Kofi were starting slow or struggling, Trent would show up offensively and would always be the voice of the team making sure they kept their heads up. Even if Illinois lost games during those seasons, the Illini wouldn’t go down without a fight.
The most concerning thing about the losses this season has been that they’ve mostly been blowouts. Four of the 6 losses have been by at least 13 points. Illinois has all the talent in the world on paper, but they find themselves coming up short in games that are winnable, (i.e. Northwestern and Mizzou).
Terrence Shannon Jr. is playing well individually, but it seems like the rest of the roster is very, very streaky. On nights where TSJ starts slow, the offense comes to a standstill, and when the team starts to press to find some offense it usually ends up with costly turnovers. With the holdover players from last year being younger than the transfers (Coleman & RJ), it's been difficult to maintain the same on- and off-court culture that we’ve seen over the last few seasons. We’re missing those glue guys on this team that can keep the team together in the tough times and keep Illinois on track when things are going well.
But the results have turned around with five wins in the last six games, and the showing on Tuesday was probably the most complete performance in Big Ten play. Everyone seemed engaged and it seemed like the guys were having fun playing basketball. We need to see more of that and the team needs to continue to gel and play its best basketball down the stretch.
We might already be 20 games into the season but there is no time better than the present to get right. With players feeling more assured in their roles we should see more consistent play from the Illini.