CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After a low-scoring victory in Madison, the Illini have now won six of their last seven games. Illinois is looking to get a much faster scoring start Tuesday night as it hosts a weaker opponent in Nebraska.
In a game Saturday where Terrence Shannon Jr. got into foul trouble early, other guys had to step up to lead the way in scoring for the Illini. Matthew Mayer had a career-high 26 points, while Jayden Epps was second in points with 13.
“I thought Jayden Epps was spectacular,” said head coach Brad Underwood on Monday. “In his last four or five games he’s hardly turning the ball over, making opportunities when they’re there.”
But now it’s onto Nebraska. While they are 3-8 in Big Ten play, like coach Underwood has said time and time again, there in no easy game in this conference.
“This is a team that arguably had Purdue beat,” Underwood said. “It doesn’t matter what the jersey says, we have to guard. We have to play hard.”
While Coleman Hawkins may have not shined on the stat sheet against Wisconsin, Underwood praised his leadership in the press conference. Hawkins discussed his changed mindset with the media before practice.
“I actually was just struggling with finding the right approach,” Hawkins said. “I’ve talked with my sister, talked with my friend, we’ve been doing Bible studies on Sundays.”
As an upperclassman, Hawkins has embraced his role as a leader of this team. Admitting that he had been getting easily frustrated earlier this season, it appears he has found his zen to allow him to stay calm on the court.
“God’s been pulling through with kind of my mindset,” Hawkins said. “And just changing the way I view things and kind of just calming me down.”
In Illinois’ last six wins, they have allowed less than 70 points in each of those contests. Underwood and Hawkins credited strong defensive play as the main reason for the team’s recent successes in these tough matchups.
A win against Nebraska will give the Illini a three-game win streak in Big Ten play. Currently sitting at third in the conference standings, every game is more important than the last with only 10 remaining until the Big Ten Tournament.