Right here at IlliniHQ.com, as always, is your place to be for constant updates from tonight's game with beat writer Scott Richey courtside at State Farm Center. Then stick around after the game for even more coverage.
The Citadel's leading scorer Hayden Brown is out for tonight's game. Easy to tell that since he's not in uniform, the rest of his teammates are and the game starts in about 30 minutes.
That should help the Illini. So will playing better than they did in the first half against Hawaii. The second half was better. That's what Brad Underwood liked.
"We did some positive things," Underwood said. "Really, really excited about a completion of a game on the defensive side. I thought we executed our game plan very, very well. I was excited to see a team that shoots 25 threes really struggle from there. I thought we did a great job of contesting. We really emphasized high hands and ball pressure. I thought our ball screen defense was, by far and away, the best it’s been all year. Kofi was elite in terms of sliding his feet and moving and his calls. He only messed up a couple.
"Then I thought once we got out of the first few minutes of the game and the sluggish start we got pretty good shots. I was pleased with our shots. We probably left 12, 14, 16 points out there on just layups — bunnies — that we did not finish. The second half, when we eliminated the turnovers, we really got into a nice flow offensively. We got good looks. It was an ugly win, but I thought there was a lot of promising things that came out of it. Yet, we’ve still got to find some consistent structure on the offensive end in terms of how we want to eliminate the turnovers."
An interesting note concerning The Citadel. Word is leading scorer Hayden Brown, who Illinois coach Brad Underwood compared to Thomas Walkup, was hurt in last night's game against Southeast Missouri State.
Brown is putting up 16.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game this season. Big loss for the Bulldogs if he's either unable to play or is limited.
The fact The Citadel is on the second night of a back-to-back is probably enough of a challenge. How that impacts the Illini, though, is to be determined.
"They’re pretty deep," Underwood said. "That’s something that will play itself out and we’ll find out. We’re a little more worried about us than what their situation is right now. We’ve got a quick turn. We’ve got to adjust scouting reports and get dialed in on what they do. Our main focus is just that — getting dialed in."
The busy week of Illinois basketball continues. It was just 48 hours ago that Illinois opened the week against Hawaii. Now The Citadel is in town for the second of three games this week at State Farm Center.
Good thing Illinois had that open week last week. No time to sit back and rest this week. Or that much time to prepare for individual opponents. Or at least The Citadel. The Illini's prep for tonight's game came down to Tuesday's practice and today's shootaround.
Of course, The Citadel had even less time to prepare to face its second high major opponent of the year. The Bulldogs also played this week. Last night, in fact, where they picked up their first win of the season in a 74-69 victory against Southeast Missouri State. Back-to-backs with true road games happen in the NBA, not college basketball. Tonight is when superstars would be taking a "load management" night off. Don't think The Citadel has the luxury of benching its best players.
So, advantage Illinois? Honestly, that should be the case anyway. Here's the rub. The Illini have yet to really put one of their nonconference opponents down in a big way. Nicholls State nearly pulled the upset. Illinois didn't put its foot on Grand Canyon's throat. Hawaii was able to hang around in the first half because of an inconsistent Illini offense.
Here's how tonight could be different. Turnovers have to be limited. Like the second half against Hawaii following 10 in the first 20 minutes that had Illinois on pace to match what was then its season average. Ayo Dosunmu probably needs to look a little bit more like the first round NBA draft pick he's been projected to be. And feed Kofi Cockburn the rock. That's working.
We'll find out later tonight if Illinois can pull it off. The Illini are currently 27 1/2-point favorites. Time to play like it.