LIVE! UT Martin

LIVE! UT Martin

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois saw its double-digit lead slip away Sunday evening at State Farm Center, but the Illini were able to hold off Tennessee Martin for a 77-74 victory — with the Skyhawks' potential game-tying three-point at the buzzer wide right — and improve to 2-0 on the season.

Leron Black led Illinois with a career high 23 points. Be sure to check out IlliniHQ.com and Monday's News-Gazette for more from the Illini victory.

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Illinois 74, UT Martin 62 — 2:48 left in 2nd half

Illinois migh thave a 12-point lead, but UT Martin continuing to score on too easy layups means this game isn't quite put away yet. The Illini have had their opportunities to do just that. Haven't been able to.

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Illinois 53, UT Martin 47 — 11:45 left in 2nd half

A combination of missed shots and miscues on offense, too many easy buckets on the other end and a UT Martin team starting to gain some confidence has seen what was once a 19-point Illini lead shrink to six.

Mark Alstork with just three points and Kipper Nichols with zero at the moment hasn't helped Illinois. The Illini need those two guys — Alstork in particular — to be productive. 

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Illinois 44, UT Martin 29 — Halftime

An 8-0 run by the Illini in the final 2:14 of the first half raised the level of excitement at State Farm Center considerably. That the run included three-pointers by Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan — after Michael Finke hit one of his own right before — was also notable. After starting the game 0 of 7 from three-point range, Illinois is 4 of 12 from deep.

Leron Black leads the Illini with 13 points (another strong start for the veteran forward), while Mark Smith has nine points and Finke eight.

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Illinois 20, UT Martin 16 — 7:33 left in 1st half

A few highlights from the last 4 minutes:

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UT Martin 12, Illinois 10 — 11:34 left in 1st half

Sloppy first 8+ minutes for the Illini against the Skyhawks. Illinois has five turnovers, of which UT Martin has scored five points. The Illini have zero points on the Skyhawks' four turnovers.

Also a lingering issue for Illinois? Three-point shooting. The Illini are 0 of 7 from deep so far tonight, making them 4 of 28 for the season. That includes misses from, nominally, the best shooters on the team.

Good start for Michael Finke and Leron Black, though. The Illini veterans have all 10 points and three rebounds apiece.

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Illinois vs. UT Martin — 5 p.m., ESPNU

Remember Friday night when I said I wouldn't try to connect every LIVE! Report to Eastern Illinois? Well, I can do it again tonight, so here go. Illinois' opponent this evening — UT Martin — plays in the Ohio Valley Conference. Just like EIU.

Speaking of EIU, the Panthers lost by just four points at Nebraska on Saturday. That came, of course, after their charity exhibition game against Illinois on Nov. 3.

"I don’t think it was as much about who won or lost that game as it was playing it," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of the EIU game. "Getting guys into uniform and in front of a crowd. You’re talking about a group of freshmen that hadn’t done that. Look at Trent (Frazier). Trent couldn’t even dribble in the Eastern game he was so nervous and uptight, yet that was a completely different guy (Friday)."

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Illinois vs. UT Martin — 5 p.m., ESPNU

If you caught the first post of today's LIVE! Report (scroll down and catch up if you didn't), I noted the contributions Michael Finke and Leron Black made early in Friday's Illini win and the importance of said contributions.

So did Brad Underwood.

"Leron and Finke had one rebound in the first half between the two of them in the Eastern game," the Illinois coach said. "(Friday) we had 11. Just different energy, different attitude. That was pleasant to see them respond. Michael’s a really good player, and we need him to be good. His aggressiveness and Leron’s really set the tone. 

"I thought our intent was better. I thought we were more mentally focused. We forced turnovers. We probably had a couple opportunities to take charges that we didn’t, but again it was a much better effort."

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Illinois vs. UT Martin — 5 p.m., ESPNU

Illinois coach Brad Underwood had plenty of positive things to say about his team after Friday night's blowout win against Southern. A sampling ...

On sophomore point guard Te'Jon Lucas
"Te’Jon Lucas was tremendous. Te’Jon set the tone the entire week. His leadership was phenomenal. His effort was tremendous."

On grad transfer guard Mark Alstork
"We all know Mark has been a very capable scorer. What I’m really happy with was his rebounding and his passing. He was very, very unselfish. He’s a tremendous shooter but just didn’t have the ball go in or he would have had a huge night."

On the team performance as a whole
"We got out and ran early. Then I thought in the second half we did a pretty good job of just running half court offense and taking what was there. I thought we did a great job of preparing to win, which was a big step for this team. Then we came out and didn’t really have a letup. We played for 40 minutes."

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Illinois vs. UT Martin — 5 p.m., ESPNU

I like to consider myself fairly knowledgeable about all genres of music. But I certainly know fewer of the songs on Mark Smith's pregame playlist than Brad Underwood's from Friday night. I'll try not to think too hard about what end of that age gap I'm trending toward.

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Illinois vs. UT Martin — 5 p.m., ESPNU

A couple items of note as the LIVE! Report gets into the heart of today's pregame ...

— Illinois is wearing its home whites (rebrand) tonight against UT Martin, who's in its road blues. I'll be honest (again) ... not my favorite look for the Illini.

— A pair of former Illini have broadcast duties tonight. Deon Thomas, of course, is the analyst for the Fighting Illini Sports Network and will do the radio broadcast with our Brian Barnhart. Sean Harrington, meanwhile, is the ESPNU analyst.

— It seems like the past couple seasons have seen at least one Illinois player sitting out the season (or at least part of it). That means solo workouts before home games. Tyler Underwood, who's appeal to play was denied by the NCAA, was out early putting up shots and running through some pick-and-roll scenarios with a pair of team managers. 

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Welcome back to one final LIVE! Report this weekend. The first was a doozy with the Brad Underwood era starting out with a 102-55 victory against Southern. The second? Well, another offensive slog — and eighth straight loss — for Lovie Smith's Illini football team. But there's still a chance for the Illini to end the weekend on a high note with another game for Underwood and Co.

The Illini (1-0) will tip off against Tennessee Martin — aka UT Martin aka UTM for future reference — in 90 minutes. The Skyhawks (0-1) were in a shootout of their own Friday night, losing 102-91 to Marshall. Illinois will see the Thundering Herd in a week. 

So what will the Illini have in store today against UTM? Will it be another step forward from Friday night's blowout win? A step back? Somewhere in between? We'll find out shortly.

There were a few telling things, however, from Friday's rout of an overmatched Southern. First, the Illinois veterans that Underwood was not pleased with following the Illini's charity exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois played with a renewed sense of energy.

Michael Finke and Leron Black played with a purpose, and Finke's offensive rebound and putback dunk as Illinois' first made shot of the game illustrated that. It was an aggressive move by a guy Underwood wants to see more aggression from this season.

And even though the Illini shot 19 percent from three-point range, they still put up 102 points because they constantly attacked the basket and made nearly every single one of their free throws. Good things happen when you do those things.

Now ... it's time to fully catch up on the Illini through the first game of the season. Then the LIVE! Report returns with more from State Farm Center leading up to tonight's game two.

Lineups: Illini vs. Skyhawks

Tate: Let's just wait and see

Illini cruise in season opener

Friday's game notes

How our beat writer graded the Illini's first win

Postgame video with Brad Underwood

Postgame video with Mark Alstork and Aaron Jordan