Illini will again be shorthanded against Missouri

Illini will again be shorthanded against Missouri

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois men’s basketball has yet to play a game with its entire roster available this season. Multiple players have missed games with either injuries or suspensions.

That won’t change for Saturday’s 7 p.m. Braggin’ Rights showdown with Missouri at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Freshman Tevian Jones will continue serving his indefinite suspension, with the Missouri game his sixth on the bench. The 6-foot-7 guard last played on Nov. 25 against Mississippi Valley State, logging 13 minutes and scoring three points.

“Tevian, he’s a young man that will be back,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said at Tuesday’s Illini Rebounders luncheon. “It won’t be for this game. Again, we hold our young men to a very high standard here. The one thing that when they violate a rule, we’ll handle that accordingly with our internal process. He’s practicing every day, but you will see him back in uniform.”

Underwood also provided an update on freshman forward Anthony Higgs on Tuesday afternoon. The Baltimore native has yet to be cleared to return to practice after offseason foot surgery.

“We will probably officially make a decision on him in terms of redshirting him pretty soon,” Underwood said. “He had surgery on his foot, had a pin put in it and it’s healed very slowly. Bad feet are something basketball players don’t want. We’ve got to get him in a healthy position.”

Higgs has been cleared to work out with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound big man is also working with dietitian Kaela Pittman, who works with the men’s basketball team, among others.

“Our nutritionists and all those people are doing a great job with him,” Underwood said. “He’s dropped 16 pounds, which he needed to.”

The last couple weeks have also created some needed practice time in the gym for Illinois. The Illini’s 77-67 loss to Ohio State in Chicago on Dec. 5 was the team’s ninth game in 28 days. The rest of the December schedule, though, was much more forgiving.

One game a week. On Saturdays. For the final four weeks of the calendar year.

Academic responsibilities this week, though, cut into some of that extra practice time. While freshman guard Alan Griffin had three finals this past Friday and one player had a final after Saturday’s 73-55 win against East Tennessee State, most are finished this week.

“This is a really trying week,” Underwood said. “We’ll take Wednesday off so guys can knock out the rest of their finals.”

The extra practice time the last two weeks, though, has been beneficial compared to the flurry of games Illinois had in the first month of the season.

“That’s very little practice time,” Underwood said. “That’s all prep mode. That’s great when you’re juniors and seniors and they’ve got it dialed in. We try to mix in two or three of those fundamental things every day, but to spend extended time on them you can’t do that.”

Now the Illini can. Underwood said ball handling has been a focus. So has rebounding technique and defensive principles.

“Rebounding has been a huge key,” he continued. “We have two or three or four segments on rebounding every day. We’re starting to add some things (offensively), which is positive. It gives us counters to what other teams do. We’ve been able to do some of that in the last week.”