Just enough

Just enough

CHAMPAIGN — Forget about scoring in seven seconds or less. Illinois was simply happy to score — period — Wednesday night as nonconference play restarted against Austin Peay.

Or hang on to the ball.

Illinois committed 25 turnovers, was whistled for 19 fouls, and while the Illini shot 40 percent from the field, they hit just 15 percent from three-point range. Sloppy enough play that Dick Vitale might have stood on his head anyway to replicate the bet he paid off after Austin Peay upset Illinois in the first round of the 1987 NCAA tournament.

Thirty years later, Illinois managed to avoid a similar upset this time around. In a game the Illini trailed more than led, their saving grace was an Austin Peay team just as prone to turnovers, fouls and missed shots. That allowed the Illini to pull off a 64-57 come-from-behind victory in front of a sometimes stunned-into-silence crowd of 12,352 at State Farm Center.

"We've got to learn from it," Illinois redshirt junior forward Leron Black said, "and play tougher."

The familiarity between Illinois coach Brad Underwood and Austin Peay coach Matt Figger — their time together at Kansas State and South Carolina — was something the Illini players knew. They knew they'd face a similar team in terms of aggressive style of play.

"They run a lot of the same stuff that we do — offensively and defensively," Illinois redshirt junior forward Michael Finke said. "We knew there was going to be a lot of pressure. We've got to be stronger with the ball and not be as soft."

That Illinois (7-3) knew what was coming defensively from the Governors (4-5) and the way Austin Peay ultimately played against the Illini didn't surprise Underwood.

"We don't run it against ourselves for two hoots either," he said. "We play looser in practice against it. We're smart enough in practice to back cut and get open. There was a passiveness (against Austin Peay)."

Underwood has said multiple times the Illini haven't progressed yet to a point in his offense where he can start scheming against what their opponents throw at them. Wednesday's game — the ineffectiveness on offense — wasn't a step in a direction that would allow more scheming.

"I told our team I've led the country in assists," Underwood said. "I finished second once. You know we're not executing very well on the offensive end when we have nine assists."

What happened

Turnovers and poor shooting could have easily sunk Illinois against Austin Peay. Maybe should have. But the Illini were able to escape their return to nonconference action after a brief foray into Big Ten play with a come-from-behind victory against the Governors.

What it means

The Illini’s learning curve? Yeah, it still might be kind of steep. There were minor flashes of what Brad Underwood is looking for, but they were few and far between in a seven-point win that probably should have been a double-digit victory.

What’s next

The nonconference challenges continue Saturday in Las Vegas when Illinois (7-3) faces UNLV (7-2) at the MGM Grand. The Runnin’ Rebels have already beaten Utah and Arizona this season and are four wins from matching their 2016-17 total.

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illinifaningeorgia wrote on December 07, 2017 at 4:12 pm

About a third of the way into the season and turnovers per game are INCREASING.  Is this how the learning curve is supposed to work?