Brad Underwood let his frustrations out Thursday night after the Illinois basketball team had a demoralizing loss to Indiana, snapping a four-game win streak.
The Illini looked like they had gotten back on track over the last two weeks. Four straight wins, maintaining home court, and dominating both ends of the floor were just a few of the many aspects that Illinois demonstrated as its season slowly began to turn around.
However, a speed bump ensued Thursday night when the Orange and Blue ran into long-time rival (yes, I said rival) Indiana at the State Farm Center. Unlike the previous few games, this matchup proved less than competitive.
Despite having two critical players in Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson sidelined due to injuries, the Hoosiers, who were in desperate need of a win to stay afloat in the Big Ten race, dominated its neighbors in a demoralizing 80-65 win.
With the defeat, Illinois saw its four-game winning streak get snapped, and its conference record fall back to .500 at 4-4. The Orange and Blue now sit at 13-6 overall and seventh in the conference. Meanwhile, Indiana improved to 12-6 overall and 3-4 in league play, remaining near the bottom half of the standings.
The game was not close from the jump, and the Hoosiers did whatever they wanted in stifling an Illini defense that only allowed five turnovers in a road win at Minnesota on Monday.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had one of the best games of his career, exacting revenge on Illinois while scoring 35 points and guiding the Hoosiers to a lead as big as 20. His fellow teammate, Jordan Geronimo, added 13 points as a dominant showing proved too much for Illinois to handle.
The Illini attempted to slowly cut the deficit down to less than 10 coming out of halftime, but the Indiana attack was able to capitalize with big shots and a 61.8% field goal percentage to show for it.
Terrence Shannon Jr. led Illinois scorers with 26 points in the loss, and R.J. Melendez nearly sparked a late rally with 10 points of his own. However, Indiana’s 33-10 first-half run made a crucial difference in the game despite Illinois’ comeback attempt of nine-straight points late in regulation.
Underwood did not mince words when talking about his team, explicitly mentioning that Jackson-Davis was not the sole reason the Illini lost, even if fans and media pundits will think otherwise.
“I’m not worried about (Jackson-Davis’) 35 points,” Underwood said after the loss. “I’m worried about Geronimo having 13. Dain guarded (TJD) well for about three possessions. We tried to double late, but didn’t execute it.”
Though Underwood didn’t make excuses for his team, Matthew Mayer, one of the key glue guys for Illinois the last few weeks, was ill.
“He said he wanted to try and go. He tried,” Underwood explained.
With the shortened Big Ten league schedule, the Illini were amid a nearly 20-day stretch without a break, as it was the team’s second game in three days and their seventh game since returning to consistent action on December 29, making for a tired, flat performance.
Illinois basketball will get much-needed rest.
The Illini will get the next several days off from playing at the State Farm Center and will have their next game against Ohio State on Tuesday night at home again. The Buckeyes are in the middle of a five-game skid, as they will host Iowa Saturday before coming to Champaign next week.
Tip-off for Tuesday is at 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN.