CHICAGO (WCIA) — The tears flowed down Aaron Jordan’s face as the senior walked off the court towards the locker room for the final time in his college career. It was a sour ending, with Illlinois falling to Iowa 83-62 in the second round of the Big Ten tournament late Thursday night. Chalk it up as another season where the orange and blue won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament.
“The things we went thru this year, it’s going to pay off in the years to come,” Jordan said. “There was lessons learned, just about ball in general. Things you can do, things you can’t do. People will look back at this year and say that was the turning point, that’s when we took steps forward.”
Illinois hasn’t played in the NCAA’s since 2013, six straight years now without seeing the state’s flagship school on Selection Sunday. Freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili summed up the season well calling it a ‘beautiful struggle.’
“We could have won a lot of games,” he said. “A lot of close games we lost but at the same time those games taught us a lot. We set the base with that for this program to grow.”
“Last year at this time, we wanted it to be over,” Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier said. “This year it meant so much more to us and we all wanted to be out there together to try and win this tournament.”
So two years into the Brad Underwood era and the Illini sit at 26-39 overall, 11-27 in the Big Ten. A big offseason awaits the Illini, lots of questions will have to be answered. Who leaves and who stays? Will Ayo Dosunmu go pro? Who else will they add on the recruiting trail? The good news for the orange and blue, at least as of now, is that the top four scorers will be back and that’s a foundation to build on going forward.