CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois Men’s Basketball suffered yet another heartbreaker against New Mexico State Saturday night.
With the clock winding down and a chance to seal their first marquee win, the Illini fell back on old way and allowed mistakes to cost them another game. It’s now two overtime losses and three more games decided by seven or fewer points. It’s become a frustrating trend for head coach Brad Underwood and his team with their slow starts playing a big role.
The Illini were down 32-17 at one point in the first half. Underwood has become an experienced halftime motivator, but he said he’d rather see players motivate one another. After Saturday’s loss, Underwood had high prase for one Illini he said did just that.
“That was all Te’Jon Lucas,” Underwood said. “I’ve done it before. Like I said, we’ve seen this chapter of the book before. I’ve had a couple moments and at some point, there has to be some leadership. There has to be some internal pride, and I just told them, when you don’t do what we practice every day, and we didn’t do that in the first half, at some point someone is going to have to step up and demand that their teammates do that. Te’Jon did that today.”
Lucas is one of several veterans on the team who Underwood said he has high expectations for, but it can be hard to change the mentality of a team accustomed to losing.
“He’s (Underwood) a winning culture,” Lucas said. “He never loses. I’m pretty sure this losing is new to him but we all never want to lose. Winning is what Illini is about and we’re just trying to bring that back.”
“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” junior forward Leron Black said. “We all go through different stuff. We’re going to go through our trials but you’ve got to keep fighting. You can’t get mad or be frustrated or get sad or whatever. You’ve got to keep fighting. We all love this game. We’d all die for this game so we’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Illinois faces Missouri in their annual Braggin’ Rights game Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.