Game one is in the books, and the Illinois basketball program has managed to get to 1-0 on the season.
From the boxing great Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” That was the case with the Illini on Monday night. We came out of the gates thinking this was going to be an easy rollover game, but Eastern Illinois came out and gave us a right hook to the jaw.
The Panthers led 15-6 seven minutes into the game, and this was an eye-opener for Illinois. We quickly reversed course and took the lead, but it was a bad first 10 minutes of the season. Thankfully, the team got back on track and would cruise to an 80-52 win over Eastern Illinois.
Here are five observations from the Illinois basketball win over Eastern Illinois
1. Illinois’ defense finally woke up
I fully expected Illinois to come out of the gates hot against Eastern Illinois. The win over No. 1 Kansas in the exhibition game should have made this team hungry.
That didn’t end up being the case, though. It looked like the Illini thought they were just going to steamroll Eastern Illinois and make this a 40-point game by halftime. The Panthers had other thoughts, as they came out and punched the Illini right in the mouth.
Through the first five minutes, Illinois was down 11-4. Through 10 minutes, we were down 15-13. That is when the Illini defense woke up. Brad Underwood made some lineup changes, and the Panthers stopped scoring at such a high clip.
Over the next, roughly, four minutes, Eastern Illinois had four points. In the final 10 minutes of the first half, they scored 10 points. And in the final three minutes of the first half, the Panthers didn’t score a single point.
Illinois would then go on to have another solid defensive showing in the second half. We managed to give up just 27 points in the final 20 minutes, and Eastern Illinois only put up 52 points for the game.
I was impressed with Illinois’ quick hands, quick movements, and the ability to guard close without fouling. Eastern Illinois only shot 16 free throws on the night, which is a number I can live with.
If Illinois can play defense like they did in the final 30 minutes against Eastern Illinois, we are going to be in every game this season regardless of what our offense produces. We just can’t let the first 10 minutes be a free-for-all for the opposing offense.