To be frank, we here at The Champaign Room don’t cover every Brad Underwood press conference anymore.
There’s a lot of them, multiple per week, and sometimes our writers’ thoughts — which turn into columns — are typically more interesting to read.
But here, on this Sunday after a loss that has many in Illini nation disappointed, we thought it was important to make sure YOU had a chance to hear from BU.
And, believe it or not, he’s in a good mood.
“I’m feeling really good,” Underwood said Sunday afternoon. “I thought we did some very, very positive things in that game.”
“That game” being the 71-68 loss to No. 14 Indiana at Assembly Hall on Saturday, securing the Hoosiers’ season sweep of the Illini and sending the Orange and Blue into the crowded middle of the Big Ten.
But despite how the Facebook head coaches feel in our comments, BU likes the direction this team is heading just three weeks out from Selection Sunday.
“The level of that game was the level of that of a Sweet 16, Elite 8,” Underwood said. “And on the road in front of a packed house, the moment wasn’t too much for us. We did a lot of really, really good things for us over the course of those 40 minutes. And when the other team has the best player in the country [Trayce Jackson-Davis] on their team, he still had a day, and yet we kind of withstood it. I felt really good about all the little things we were doing.”
And to be honest, I was still a bit perplexed. But then BU started to make a little more sense to me.
He brought up the early December game against Texas at Madison Square Garden, one of the Illini’s two signature wins on the season catapulting them essentially as a NCAA Tournament lock.
It took a heroic effort by Jayden Epps and Terrence Shannon Jr. late in that game to secure the victory. But on Saturday, Underwood said it was just a few little things (that can still be cleaned up) that sent the Illini back to Champaign with a L.
“A very, very cohesive team that was fighting for being a man down. I saw a lot of guys raise their game.
“That’s why I feel so good. It’s the most calming feeling I’ve had all year with this team after the game.”
As for TSJ, the grad transfer remains in concussion protocol after suffering the concussion against Penn State on Tuesday.
Underwood didn’t specify when his return may be, saying it’s up to the medical staff and trainers.
“You lose 18 points a game,” Underwood said on TSJ’s absence, “and to see guys step into those roles.” Safe to say he was impressed with Illinois’ effort without its superstar.
The Last Shot
There are certainly still plenty of fans frustrated with the final shot, a RJ Melendez three-point attempt that hit the rim but missed.
BU didn’t go too much into why he was still on the court — it’s because he was there for defense, the Illini were supposed to foul, but there was never a whistle after Epps’ free throw attempt — but he did say, once again, that he liked the shot attempt.
Matthew Mayer, who had the hot hand against the Hoosiers, passed it over to Melendez for the last shot.
“It’s the right basketball play Matt made,” Underwood said. “To throw the ball to a guy, who, to be very honest, has struggled a little bit. Matt didn’t even blink. It was the right play. He knew it.
“I hollered ‘overtime’ from the bench because I thought he would make that shot. And he didn't. But to see that hug, and ‘You’re going to be fine, next time,’ that's when I as a coach know I have this in the right direction. We can screw up a lot of things, but you can’t screw up that. When you have that chemistry, and your best player arguable is handing the ball off, I'm all over that everyday.”