After a sloppy home loss to Maryland this past Sunday, the Illini will head to Michigan in hopes of a reset victory over the Wolverines.
Head coach Brad Underwood and sophomore guard/forward Ty Rodgers were available to the media Wednesday morning to discuss both the last game and their upcoming battle tonight.
“It didn’t go our way,” Underwood said. “Really just about everything that could go bad did.”
From missed layups, to fumbled balls, to blown assignments, Illinois was never able to get in sync during an upset defeat at home.
However, the orange and blue have directly addressed these mistakes and are looking for a clean slate against a Michigan team that sits at the bottom of the Big Ten.
“We gave up 43 points off mistakes, and that’s been so unlike us,” Underwood said. “But you learn from that, you grow, then you get ready for the next one.”
In this long streak of conference play down the stretch, problems need to be learned from quickly. Taking responsibility and having a short memory are essential for success in this star-studded conference.
“We all took accountability for everything, it was just lack of effort,” Rodgers said. “We took it, we got back and had a great practice yesterday and we’re going to have a great one today.”
For Rodgers, Michigan is oddly enough home. He was born in Saginaw, Michigan and went to Grand Blanc High School in Michigan before transferring to Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois as a senior.
“It’s my first time back home so I’d be proud to get a bounce back and see some family,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of family members coming.”
Despite Michigan having the worst overall record in the Big Ten (7-10), they are fresh off a huge win over its heated rival Ohio State.
On top of that, the roster is still full of talent even after Hunter Dickinson’s departure. Sophomore guard Dug McDaniel has averaged 17.6 points, 5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds on 43.8% shooting this year.
“Guy’s like that, they can score,” Rodgers said. “If he has 40 and we win that’s fine, that’s completely fine. We’re going to try to be aggressive and tire him out and just do what we can.”
In the practices since its last game, Illinois has already appeared to be improving. They have faced a lot of adversity already this season and this week is no different.
“We were really good yesterday in practice and now we go on the road,” Underwood said. “We’ve got to be tougher, we’ve got to be more connected and we’ve done that all year.”
The guys have really hammered home the “moving forward” aspect of getting over a loss, as they have yet to drop back-to-back games this year. The players have been eager to learn from, then quickly forget about a game like what was seen on Sunday.
“We’re not dwelling on the past, stuff happens and there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Rodgers said. “Our next task is just to go and get a win.”
With six seniors/grad students on this year’s squad, the older players have already been through many hard times in their careers. Having a seasoned group definitely helps when learning how to deal with frustrations in the dog days of the season.
“I think it’s just talking about those things and getting their perspective of why we felt it happened,” Underwood said. “This group’s mature enough where we could handle that.”
Despite Illinois having won its last six games against Michigan dating back to the 2019-20 season, there is no easy game in this conference.
While Rodgers is looking forward to finally return to his home state, he is locked in and is in no way wavering in his focus on the task at hand.
“Obviously, it’s always good to see some familiar faces,” he said. “I’m excited to go back, but most importantly just to try to get this win.”