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‘It’s a challenge’: Looking to contain TJD, Illinois heads to Bloomington

A top-3 spot in the Big Ten is on the line Saturday.

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

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In late February, the Big Ten race is finally starting to heat up. However, the Illini are just now beginning their toughest stretch of the season.

Following another loss to Penn State, Illinois will face four teams — in three different locations — in a span of 9 days.

The first matchup is arguably the most daunting: a trip to Assembly Hall to face top-15 Indiana.

Head coach Brad Underwood and a recently healthy Luke Goode addressed the media Friday to preview the matchup against the Hoosiers.


Illini fans probably remember the last time these two teams played.

“It was a tough loss,” Underwood said. “Trayce was literally the show.”

We’ve reached a point where every college basketball fan in the country knows who “Trayce” is. Trayce Jackson-Davis has been on a tear this season, but he didn’t truly start his NPOY campaign until his masterpiece at State Farm Center.

Jackson-Davis got everything he wanted that night with ease, scoring a season-high 35 points and adding 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks. Since then, he’s only continued his dominance.

His impressive play makes him the main focal point for most defenses. Northwestern’s recent attempt to stop him worked well in the first half, but a dominant second half by the Indiana star erased a 20-point deficit. His near triple double almost propelled Indiana to a comeback win.

“He’s a really really good player,” Underwood said. “And you don’t slow down really good players.”

When scouting Indiana, every team knows who to focus on. As his stats indicate, Jackson-Davis is hard to strategize against. Not only does he score, but he has dished out four or more assists in 9 of his 15 Big Ten games.

“He’s the best passing big man in the country; he’s an elite passer out of double teams,” Underwood said. “It’s a little bit of pick your poison.”

Underwood emphasized that the first time around, the Illini did a great job at defending the rest of the team. He mentioned that the team’s success is reliant on Jackson-Davis: they run every play through him.

It’s clear that there’s no stopping the Indiana star, but if you want to come out of Assembly Hall with a win, you must find a way contain him.

Goode to be Back

The Illini will have their hands full with Jackson-Davis, but a big boost they’ve received recently is the return of Luke Goode.

Originally named a starter for the team, Goode went down with a fractured foot shortly before the season started. His return came more than three months later, and his first basket came as a three pointer in the loss to Penn State.

“It feels great,” Goode said. “All the hard work that I put in has really come into fruition.”

For a team that has struggled mightily from three in Big Ten play (28.9%), having Goode back is a huge addition to the offense. Despite just returning to action, Goode isn’t afraid to come in and make important plays for this team.

“His opportunities are gonna come,” Underwood said. “He’s one of the elite shooters in this league, and we can really utilize that.”

A native of Indiana, Goode actually grew up cheering for the Hoosiers. He was disappointed that he didn’t make it back onto the court for the home loss against Indiana, but he will use Saturday’s chance to make up for the time he’s missed.

“I think this team can do great things in the postseason and continue to win games in the regular season,” Goode said. “I’m ready to go.”

TSJ Injury

The game against Penn State has hurt the Illini more than just in the win-loss column.

Recent updates reveal that Illinois leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s loss. He has been ruled out for Saturday’s game at Indiana.

Shannon is a big part of this Illinois team, and pulling off a win in Bloomington just became that much harder.