ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WCIA) — Tough, gritty, physical. Those words are music to Brad Underwood’s ears and it’s exactly what his team did defensively Tuesday night in a 76-53 win at No. 2 Michigan. Fourth-ranked Illinois imposed its will at both ends of the floor in the program’s highest ranked road win ever, but the defensive effort and energy is what had Underwood smiling the most after his team doused him with water upon entering the locker room at Crisler Arena.
“It was executed well tonight and it’s been getting better,” Underwood said. “It becomes about not making mistakes, not making errors and then you put that with maximum effort. When we’re tough and gritty and flying around, we’re a very good defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to bring every single night.”
The Illini (19-6, 15-4 B1G) held the Wolverines (18-2, 13-2) to season lows 53 points, 34% shooting from the field and 28% from beyond the arc. Future NBA players Franz Wagner (2) and Isaiah Livers (7) combined for just nine points, with Big Ten Freshman of the Year shoe-in winner Hunter Dickinson making just one field goal (1-for-8) and held to only six points. It all added up to the most impressive defensive performance of the season.
“We the hardest playing team in the country, that’s our statement,” Illinois senior Trent Frazier said after scoring a game high 22 points. “Like I said, even without our best player (Ayo Dosunmu), we got a lot of guys on this team. We’ve been saying since our guy went down, we’re loaded. Guys stepped up, it’s incredible and it’s just special to see what kind of basketball team we are.”