Underwood: 'We were really dialed in'

Underwood: 'We were really dialed in'

CHAMPAIGN — Scouting reports and following them to the extent the Illinois coaching staff wants has been a work in progress for the Illini early this season. Limiting Marshall's potentially explosive offense to 74 points and 43 percent shooting Sunday in a 17-point victory was more of what Brad Underwood wants from his team.

It's also what the Illinois coach thought he might get after a good one-day prep Saturday.

"I thought we were really dialed in (Saturday) coming off the game Friday night," Underwood said.

It was a quick turnaround for the Illini after beating DePaul 82-73 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. "(Assistant coach Jamall Walker) had the scout. I thought Jamall did a tremendous job of getting our guys' attention."

Underwood called Marshall a "hard team to scout." The Thundering Herd spread teams out with their offense and have more reads than sets in execution.

The Illini handled it. That was never more apparent than in holding Marshall guard Jon Elmore to 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and forcing Elmore and C.J. Burks into a combined 11 turnovers.

"That's a big number for two guys that are exceptional at what they do," Underwood said.

Illinois ran a number of defenders at Elmore, including freshmen Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier. The goal never changed, though.

"We just wanted to make his life hard up top," Illinois redshirt sophomore forward Kipper Nichols said. "Executing rotations was big for us — getting over on the help side and just helping everybody out on defense."

Elmore did most of his scoring at the free throw line, making eight of 10 shots there. It was a clear departure from the 28.3 points per game he was averaging coming into Sunday's game.

"He's probably the best player in Conference USA," Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni said. "He didn't give us a 'Jon' performance, but I expect him to be back. ... He's pressing because he hasn't learned to trust the players he has this year. Last year, we had Ryan Taylor rolling down there, and he trusted him."

 

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Illinois' execution on the offensive end also pleased Underwood. After turning the ball over 18 times against both DePaul and Tennessee Martin, the Illini limited that to six turnovers compared to 19 assists Sunday.

"That's big boy basketball in a game that was full court and a lot of possessions," Underwood said. "Had we made layups and free throws — especially the layup part — that assist total would have been much higher. We had 19 assists on 34 baskets, and that's a good number. That will make me happy most nights."

Illinois redshirt junior forward Leron Black said the Illini knew they had to value the ball more against the Thundering Herd.

"We knew they were going to sit in that press the majority of the game," he said. "We knew we had to take care of the ball and stay strong with the ball, and that was our best chance to win."

 

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Illinois was whistled for 22 fouls on Sunday against Marshall. That didn't change the fact D'Antoni had his moments with the officiating crew, with the Thundering Herd called for 21 of their own.

D'Antoni was nothing if not polite, starting his objections with "Mr. Ref."

"I enjoyed the banter, had a good time with the referees," D'Antoni said. "I just thought they might have been in the wrong — maybe. If you've got a picture of it, I've got proof. Anyway, that happens in games. I've been told this is my 1,550th game. You've pretty much seen everything."

 

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Foul calls aside, D'Antoni is all for the rule changes put in place to keep defenders' hands off offensive players.

"I don't want to understate that winning's important," he said. "It is. (Basketball is) also entertainment. It is. It's also the fans getting to see great plays and see players playing together hard and getting to see the court open up and flowing and not sumo wrestling."

 

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Black was called for just one foul Sunday night. While his Illini career has been plagued at times by foul trouble, it wasn't the first occasion. It actually happened five times last season and three times in 2014-15 when Black played fewer minutes as a true freshman.

"I don't even know," Black said when asked about the last time he was called for one foul, which brought a smile to his face. "It's good though. It's something I need to keep on doing."

 

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There was plenty of laughter postgame. Some between Black and Nichols. More with D'Antoni at the microphone.

Like why he wore a long-sleeved Marshall T-shirt under his dark green blazer.

"I'm from the country, man," he answered. "I had three T-shirts and a couple pair of sneaks when I went to school. Now I can afford a little more expensive T-shirt."

But that was just the start on that particular subject. D'Antoni played at Marshall in the late 1960s, loves the school and said he's a promoter. Wearing Marshall gear means he's recruiting even when he's coaching.

The T-shirt and blazer combination is also more comfortable in his opinion.

"I don't know who started that tie business," D'Antoni said before answering his own unasked question.

"Croatia is where ties came from," he continued. "I don't know if you all know that. Croatia is the one that's started all this tie thing. I've got one on my staff (video coordinator Ivan Vujic is Croatian). I'm going to beat the heck out of him and tell him, 'Look what you've done to Americans.' "

There was also a final word, as it were, on D'Antoni's sartorial choices.

"I'm going to be who I am. I'm too old to be anything different," he said before promoting Split, Croatia, as one of his favorite vacation destinations.

 

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Underwood stood outside the media room as D'Antoni finished his postgame media responsibilities.

"Can I start with the crumbs he left?" Underwood joked rhetorically as he ate the popcorn that fell out of D'Antoni's bowl when it was his turn at the microphone. "I hope he didn't pick them up off the floor. He just said that was the best part of coming in here — the popcorn and Diet Coke he got."

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