CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — An overtime game in the season opener against Nicholls State wasn’t how Brad Underwood scripted it. Neither was committing 23 turnovers. Both happened on Tuesday night as Illinois basketball nearly lost its first game of the year.
The Illini (1-0) led by as many as 20 points with 15 minutes left but the Colonels didn’t give in, putting together a 16-0 run late in the game to take a two-point lead with less than a minute to play. Illinois ended up closing the final seconds of regulation and the extra session on a 14-4 run to secure the victory. Underwood said he was pleased with several stats, including a +30 rebounding advantage but the turnovers were what stuck in his craw most.
“I wasn’t a very good player but I don’t know if I ever had guys take my ball and we’ve got do a much better job with ball toughness,” Underwood said. “We got taken off the dribble, taken out of our hands and that’s a mental approach to how you have to play and Ayo’s way too good a player to have five turnovers against anybody or against any kind of pressure. And Giorgi is way too good a player to have four turnovers.”
Illinois hits the road for Arizona for a two-game, four day road trip. A Friday night game at Grand Canyon leads to the non-conference headliner of the season, at Arizona on Sunday night.