CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In Wednesday’s thrilling overtime loss at Northwestern, Marcus Domask had the ball at the end of regulation but missed the go-ahead bucket.
“We had a shot to win it,” Underwood said. “We got a great look, I would run that play many times over in that situation.”
Northwestern went on to win after a 9-0 run to start overtime gave them the largest lead of the game.
“We made a couple of defensive mistakes to start the overtime and they capitalized,” Underwood said.
Despite the outcome, Underwood was still impressed with his team and how they performed in a tough road environment.
“When you look back, there was a lot of really hard shots made by both teams,” he said. “I liked our fight, we had 21 offensive rebounds.”
Passing up on good shoots was a mistake acknowledged by both Underwood and Domask on Friday. That’s a problem they are looking to address and avoid moving forward, starting Saturday afternoon with Indiana.
“When we don’t shoot the open threes, the spot up threes, it hurts our team,” Domask said. “When you run good offense and you get looks you have to take one of them.”
On top of not taking advantage of open looks, Illinois struggled with the scouting report going into the Northwestern game which was a new challenge for them this season.
“We did make some scouting report mistakes which we have not been making and we have to clean those up,” Underwood said.
Domask echoed the same opinion on being more sharp when it comes to these scouting report errors.
“Those are just mental lapses that can’t happen,” Domask said. “We’re all aware of the mistakes that we made and I don’t think we’re going to make them going forward.”
Illinois forward Marcus Domask talks about learning from mistakes against Northwestern, staying prepared for long stretches of play, and Terrence Shannon Jr. returning to form. #Illini pic.twitter.com/MomTsDv6pR— Ethan Holesha (@Holesha_17) January 27, 2024
Following the loss, Underwood took accountability in the postgame interview for the defensive changes made to start the second half.
“We’ve got to do a better job of stringing some gaps but schematically it’s been what we do and I probably went to the five-way switching too early,” he said. “In retrospect, I would’ve liked to probably stay away from it if I had a do-over again, but I don’t.”
TSJ’s Slow Return
One of the top storylines from Wednesday night was Terrence Shannon Jr. and his struggles on the offensive side of the ball in an arena that was anything but inviting in his first road game back since returning from suspension.
Despite this, Underwood has faith in Shannon and has seen similar situations in previous seasons with players missing time.
“We’ve had it almost every year,” Underwood said. “You forget Ayo missed games, you forget Curbelo missed games, you forget Kofi missed games, and it doesn’t matter what the reason, when you’re not practicing, you’re not practicing.”
Even in the days since Shannon’s dull performance, he appears to be making strides in the right direction.
“Slowly he’s been finding his rhythm, he was really good yesterday,” Domask said. “I don’t think he’s full into his feel yet, I think he would admit that. But once he gets there, I think we’re a dangerous team.”
Underwood also took note of Shannon’s improvements in practice and expects him to be back up to full speed in the near future.
“He had his best practice [Thursday] that he’s had back and that’s encouraging,” Underwood said. “He’s an elite athlete who’s got his conditioning and stamina back pretty quick and it’s just getting back into the grind and the flow of things. There’s no doubt we know he’ll be back to top form.”
Saturday’s game will be the fourth Illinois has played since Jan. 18. The team understands that this schedule can be unforgiving at times during conference play.
“We’re in the middle of five straight games with two day preps without days off,” Underwood said. “You’re playing eight o’clock games, you get home at two in the morning, that’s part of life in the Big Ten, you play every day of the week.”
During this long stretch of games, the players know they need to stay locked in in order to maximize their production on the court.
“We’ve just got to be responsible with our time, be smart off the court,” Domask said. “We’ve got to take care of our bodies and I think we do a really good job of that.”
Even with the injuries and Shannon’s suspension, Illinois is now nearly back to full health as a complete squad at the perfect time of the season.
“It’s been a positive and it’s been a negative having guys out,” Underwood said. “As we get to February, we’re kind of getting whole again, I feel really good about it.”
Despite Indiana being a middle of the pack Big Ten team this year, Illinois understands that no team in this league is a push over by any means.
“It’s a team that you can’t play around with, they’re really talented, well coached,” Domask said. “It’s a team that we’ve got to go out there and complete our game plan to win.”
Having a get right game at home is huge for the Illini and they know that this is a perk they need to use to their advantage.
“It’s definitely a big game, any home game, we don’t want to lose in front of our fans,” Domask said. “In the Big Ten, it’s a close race, so we need every win we can get.”
With 10 teams within two games of third place in the conference, it’s not going to get any easier from here. The orange and blue are looking to embrace the grind as they find themselves in the toughest stretch of this year’s campaign.
“Maximize your rest when you can get it,” Underwood said. “And when you can’t, you’ve better buckle up, strap it on, and be a tough son of a bitch or you’re going to get your butt beat and that’s just the reality of it.”