'It's important to understand that losing's not OK'

'It's important to understand that losing's not OK'

CHICAGO — Ohio State looked like the clubhouse leader to lose the foul battle Wednesday night. Illinois quickly caught up and ultimately passed the Buckeyes to reclaim that particular title with 26 fouls that tied the number the Illini committed last week at Notre Dame but still fell one short of their season high against Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational.

"I thought there were great officials on the court — the best we have — and I loved every one of them and every call that they made," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said with a straight face. "We'll have them next time, and they'll be great again. You're not going to bait me with that one. My wife's standing back there. Just $10,000 to her is a lot of money."

Underwood was quite a bit more emotive during the game. That was particularly true when his team was whistled for 16 fouls in the second half. Some execution errors by the Illini drew a similar response.

"I'm a fighter," Underwood said. "I'm going to be passionate. Sometimes it's important for our players to understand what passion is. Sometimes it's important to understand that losing's not OK. Sometimes it's important to know that blowing an assignment repeatedly is not OK. But I love every one of them."

That the Illini have committed fouls in excess this season isn't entirely a surprise for Underwood, though.

"Every team I've ever been around, young teams foul," the Illini coach said. "They're still looking at positioning and schematics and so on and so forth.

"There's an average of eight missed layups in every high-major basketball game. We want teams to be able to drive the ball and make them finish. We think it's OK to try to get a steal, but to slap, and we don't teach that. We do quite the contrary. Again, it's discipline, and we're not there yet."

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Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols led Illinois with 18 points apiece, but the former nearly didn't finish the game. Frazier was fouled hard on a layup attempt with about 90 seconds to play and went down even harder, landing on his back/tailbone.

Frazier had to be helped off the court, but he did return with just more than 1 minute on the clock.

"I had a horrible, horrible feeling in my stomach because I saw the look on his face," Underwood said. "That's a terrible, terrible feeling. It did kind of bring a smile to my face to actually see him come back out."

"The way he went down was obviously really scary," Illinois redshirt junior forward Nichols added. "That's our guy. We want nothing but to have him in there."

Underwood hadn't spoken with Illinois athletic trainer Paul Schmidt or Frazier immediately after the game.

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Freshman guard Tevian Jones missed his third straight game Wednesday as he continues to serve a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. The indefinite nature of Jones' suspension provides little clarity as to when the 6-7 guard might return.

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Illinois finished just 9 of 22 on layups Wednesday against the Buckeyes.

"I felt like the opportunities — the shots we got — were really good ones," Underwood said. "If we make 13 layups, then this is a completely different game. Those are the best shots the game has to offer."

Illinois' 13 misses, though, came with Ohio State blocking just four shots.

"We try to have our bigs protect the rim as much as possible," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "We work on verticality every day. We don't necessarily have great shot blockers but they can do a good job of being intentional about protecting the rim."

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The one item Underwood might have noticed about Ayo Dosunmu's game the most when he was recruiting the five-star guard was his ability to finish at the rim. Underwood called Dosunmu one of the "best layup makers" he's seen.

The reality so far this season has been less success for Dosunmu around the rim. Heading into Wednesday's Big Ten "home" opener against Ohio State, the 6-foot-5 Chicago native was, per Underwood's perusal of his stats, finishing about 45 percent at the rim.

Those numbers didn't get any better against the Buckeyes. Dosunmu finished with five points on 1 of 9 shooting.

"It's the physicality of the game," Underwood said. "We pulled his numbers the other day, and I think he's 45 percent. A really good NBA guy is going to be in the mid-60s.

"Here's a guy that's known for being a great layup maker. Now, you're not just getting by your guy but you're getting by a secondary defender and a lot of times a third defender coming over and they're big. You don't see those rotations in high school. That's something he's adjusting to. There's a physicality to that — getting bumped."

Part of fine-tuning that aspect of Dosunmu's game is his takeoff point attacking the basket. Underwood likened it to "long jumping" based on how far off Dosunmu was starting his attempts.

"I feel like I'm taking off too high around the basket," Dosunmu said in reference to the distance from the rim. "I've just got to take another dribble and get in there. It's just an adjustment for me. I've watched film. I've talked to my coaches. I've looked at all the stats on how I'm missing it. Now, it's about how I respond. I've got to attack more. I've got to finish more around the basket."

What is working for Dosunmu, though, is his three-point shooting. Again heading into Wednesday's game, he was hitting at 57.1 percent from beyond the arc to lead the Illini.

"My senior year I knew my jump shot was a knock on me — people saying I could drive it but I really couldn't shoot it," he said. "Growing up, my shot has always been my best tool. I just had to put in hard work. I went through times where I didn't make any, but now I'm making some. I've got to stay true to myself and keep working.

"It's crazy. Last year I was finishing better than I was shooting, and now I'm shooting better than I'm finishing. At the end of the day, it's about putting more work in. Now that my jump shot's falling, I have to not get complacent and work on my finishing moves."

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Here's how much Ohio State apparently thought it would have Luther Muhammad for Wednesday night's game. The freshman guard, who had been day-to-day with a left shoulder injury, had to wear a No. 12 jersey with no nameplate instead of his regular No. 1.

Muhammad finished the game with six points, four rebounds and two steals. Getting Muhammad back on the court after he missed Sunday's game against Minnesota allowed the Buckeyes to play more of their regular rotation against the Illini.

"I was doing everything the trainers asked me to do rehabbing," Muhammad said. "My rehabs were like an hour long — shoulder exercises and weights. I felt good in shootaround and got cleared to play. I feel 100 percent. I knew (the injury) wasn't going to stop me."

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Adonis De La Rosa played 5 minutes Wednesday night against Ohio State. That came after Underwood said he had a couple solid days of practice this week after logging just 4 minutes at Nebraska on Sunday.

Illinois' grad transfer big man, though, still struggled defensively — particularly when it came to trying to slow down Buckeyes big man Kaleb Wesson. That limited how much De La Rosa played in the second half.

"I think Adonis, it's about comfort," Underwood said. "It's as much mental as it is the physical. He's just trying to find his way yet. I think every day he gets better and has a better chance to help us. I think it's mental as well as physical.

"He's got to feel comfortable in our system. He's trying to figure out where he's getting shots. Maybe a new defensive system in terms of rebounding the basketball. He's very, very capable of helping us on both ends of the court."

Scott Richey