CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — With just eight games left in the regular season, there isn’t much room for error left for this year’s Illini squad.
While Illinois still finds itself ranked No. 14 in the country, their last game resulted in a loss after a defensive meltdown in the final minutes.
“We had no ability to stop them defensively,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “We are very proficient on the offensive end and its a very false sense of reality that you can rely on that to win you games when it counts.”
After having an eight-point lead with just under eight minutes left in East Lansing, Illinois finished the game making only one of its final 12 shots while Michigan State made its final four attempts from the floor.
The Spartans shot 34 total free throws and drew three and-one fouls in the final three and a half minutes of the game.
“We have to become better defensively, we were very soft,” Underwood said. “When you’re committing and-one fouls that means you’re very passive and not very aggressive, and I didn’t like that very much.”
In the Illini’s last three games, they have given up at least 75 points to their opponents. They had only done that five other times prior to that stretch this season.
“It’s been a communication thing” said guard Justin Harmon. “We haven’t been talking on the court as much as we usually do throughout the past few games.”
Terrence is Terrence
Despite the late-game loss this past weekend, Terrence Shannon Jr. finished with a game-high 28 points—the most since he’s returned from his suspension. Shannon proved to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing result.
“The one thing I’m ecstatic about with him was that he got on the offensive glass,” Underwood said. “I think he’s in a great place and I think he’s finding his opportunities when they’re there.”
Harmon echoed Underwood’s enthusiasm toward Shannon’s recent play.
“Terrence is going to be Terrence,” Harmon said. “He’s a good player if he’s scoring or if he’s not scoring, I’m just glad to have him back.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game vs. Michigan, Illinois still finds itself alone in second place in the Big Ten even with another loss. The orange and blue have a chance for a get-right game at home as the Wolverines comes to town.
While UM is currently dead last in the conference with a 3-10 record, the Illini know better than anyone that there is no easy game in this league.
“This is a talented Michigan team,” Underwood said. “We’re going to have to be good, they’re one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the Big Ten.”
In each of the last six AP polls, Illinois has bounced back and forth between being ranked No. 10 and No. 14. While the rankings have stayed consistent, Underwood knows there’s always room for improvement.
“You guys know me by now, I’m never satisfied,” Underwood said. “There’s always another place to get to.”
The Illini are trying to have a short memory after their lackluster performance against Michigan State. To do so, they have been directly addressing their problems on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re starting to get more locked in back on the defensive end,” Harmon said. “We’ve been doing a lot of defensive drills in practice and we know what we’ve got to do to win.”
Illinois now sits at 8-4 in conference play, two games behind first-place Purdue. While this game should be a win for the orange and blue, this team doesn’t appear to make anything easy.
“Expect a hard game,” Underwood said “We’ve got to play much better and much tougher than we did the other night.”