CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Until Sunday, the Illini’s resume was clean.
Despite missed opportunities against the likes of Marquette, Tennessee and Purdue —all nationally ranked teams — Illinois had taken care of business when needed. Nothing that would stand out come Selection Sunday as a “bad loss.”
That changed when a struggling Maryland team came into State Farm Center on Sunday afternoon and had their way with the Illini, handing them a Quad III loss and taking advantage of an uncharacteristic performance from a veteran-laden squad.
It was one of those days where Brad Underwood’s team just didn’t have it.
“Really just about everything that could go bad did,” Underwood said. “From missed layups to fumbled balls to blown assignments.”
At some point, this relatively consistent Illini team was bound for a clunker, especially playing without Terrence Shannon Jr. Whether it was their 9-for-23 mark on layups, 1-for-14 second half three-point shooting, or careless mental errors throughout the game they didn’t do enough to win, even at home.
“I don’t know if it’s an energy, it’s a connectivity, whatever it was we were just flat,” Underwood said. “I don’t know any other way to describe it.”
Of particular irk for Underwood was his team’s showing on the defensive end. Currently, Maryland ranks a lowly 173rd nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, a mark that’s 13th in the Big Ten. Generating offense has been a struggle all season for the Terps, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.
“I was very disappointed in our defensive effort,” Underwood said. “Defend, rebound and run...when we do those things, we’re really, really good. We didn’t do that very well in any facet.”
It was a multitude of uncharacteristic breakdowns that allowed Maryland stars Jahmir Young and Julian Reese to put up 28 and 20 points respectively.
“We gave up 43 points off mistakes,” Underwood said. “That’s been so unlike us.”
The task ahead for the 14th-ranked Illini: make sure those same mistakes don’t happen again in Ann Arbor as they get set to take on Michigan.
To do so, it’s been an ongoing process for Underwood and his staff to get their players to understand what went wrong and how they can correct it.
“You ask ‘why?’ It’s getting them to understand ‘why did this happen?’” Underwood said. “I think it’s just talking about those things and getting their perspective of why we felt it happened. This group is mature enough that we can handle that.”
Illinois has an opportunity to regain some of the positive momentum it had prior to Sunday’s setback with a victory over the Wolverines, who sit at just 7-10 on the season. That said, winning on the road in the Big Ten is a code not many teams have cracked so far this season.
Entering play Thursday, Big Ten road teams are a measly 11-34 in conference play. The Illini can’t show up to the Crisler Center on Thursday night with the same effort they displayed against Maryland, and they know it.
“We’ve got to be tougher; we’ve got to be more connected. We’ve done that all year,” Underwood said.
Illinois and Michigan tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT on FS1.