LINCOLN, Neb. (WCIA) — The ups have been good for the Illinois basketball team this season, and the downs have been particularly bad. The pendulum has swung both ways and often times rather rapidly for the Illini, who have seemingly found their footing after back-to-back wins for the first time in six weeks, following a 26-point blowout win at Nebraska Tuesday night.
After starting 0-3 in Big Ten play, the Illini (11-5, 2-3 B1G) are creeping up to the level mark in conference play with a Friday night showdown against league leader Michigan State set for 8 p.m. at State Farm Center. After a dreadful stretch in December that saw Illinois head coach Brad Underwood publicly call out his team for a lack of leadership following a disappointing 74-59 loss to Penn State, to the team suffering the biggest Braggin’ Rights loss to Missouri in the four-plus decade series, the holidays were anything but joyful for the Orange and Blue. The woes continued into the new year with a double-digit loss at Northwestern, followed by point guard Skyy Clark announcing he was “stepping away from basketball” but the Illini rebounded, taking down No. 14 Wisconsin before the runaway victory in Lincoln.
“We stayed together, we talked and just staying the course, listening to Coach Brad and his staff and what they have planned for us,” Illinois senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. said after scoring a game high 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against the Huskers. “And as you see there, we all share the ball, nobody cares who’s shooting it. As long as we share the ball and play together, we’ll be great.”
“It’s always been about us,” Underwood said about getting his team right through adversity. “It’s never about the individual, it’s about us and that’s our everyday guys mantra. It’s about the fight for us. Again, it’s a long season, we said from day one, with nine new guys there were going to be a lot of ups and downs.”