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‘It’s a very important game’: Underwood, Goode emphasize needing win at OSU

Illini set to head to Columbus for a tilt with the Buckeyes.

Jack Jungmann // TCR

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As January turns to February, March inches closer and closer, meaning winning becomes ever so important.

For Illinois, who currently sits 15-5 and 6-3 in conference play, the time is now to shift into full gear.

“Now that we have three losses, you see teams like Wisconsin only has one, Purdue only has two, and they’re not going to lose a lot the rest of their season,” said Luke Goode on Monday. “So we got to match that and have that mindset that each loss means that much more now.”

Goode and head coach Brad Underwood met with media at the Ubben Complex to preview Tuesday night’s matchup with Ohio State and drew attention to how important leaving Columbus with a win is.

“We can’t afford to lose many other games, if we want a chance at the title, regular-season title,” Goode said. “So we’re going to go [to Columbus] with full confidence.

“It’s a very important game,” he added.

Ohio State holds a 13-7 record with a 3-6 tally in conference play — 11th in the Big Ten. It also just suffered a 25-point loss in Evanston to Northwestern Saturday night, the same building where Illinois faltered last week.

While on paper it seems the Illini are the better team, Underwood talked about how the Buckeyes’ record cannot fool his squad.

“It’s just a good basketball team,” Underwood said. “They’ve had a couple of very close losses, they’re better than their record.”

Similarly last February, it seemed Illinois would have the edge to beat a lackluster Ohio State team on the road, but instead fell 72-60.

“We’ll have to go play very well,” Underwood said.

The Buckeyes — who have lost five of six — pose an interesting challenge. Underwood highlighted some of what you can expect to see.

“A team who has an elite wing in Jamison Battle, he’s shooting 48% in league play from the three,” Underwood said. “Bruce Thornton, point guard that’s big, strong, physical. Great mid-range game.”

Thornton and Battle — the Minnesota transfer — lead the Buckeyes in points per game with 16.1 and 13.8 respectively.

“They do it by committee at the center spot with Zed Key and [Felix] Okpara,” Underwood said.

Okpara hauls in 7.1 rebounds per game, ranking ninth in the Big Ten.

Underwood also described Buckeye guard Roddy Gale Jr. as a ‘really, really good player for them, especially in their wins.’

“He’s averaging 17, 18 a game in their wins,” Underwood said.

One thing both Goode and Underwood said the team needs to work on is shot selection. They both want to see more three-point attempts.

“That’s our whole team, our three-point rate’s way too low,” Underwood said. “If I could take 60 threes, I’d take 60 threes. We just got to shoot more.”

“Everybody’s got to be ready to shoot the ball,” Goode said. “And if you’re open, and got time, do it.”

Underwood talked about how much he trusts his guys to make shots, and how he need to see more be taken even if it’s not a ‘great’ look.

“Good shooters have to shoot the basketball,” Underwood said. “And we’ve got to take good threes, not just great threes.”

Tuesday’s game in Columbus will be the end of a stretch for Illinois that — minus the three-day break between the Maryland and Michigan games — had the orange and blue playing off two days rest going back to the win over Michigan State Jan. 11.

Goode made note of how important it is to get used to stretches like this.

“It’s good for us now, get those games out of the way,” Goode said. “When we start playing in March Madness hopefully we’ll have those quick turnarounds.”

Tipoff against Ohio State is at 6 p.m. Tuesday night and can be streamed on Peacock.