No. 11 Illinois basketball makes road trip north for showdown with Marquette for Gavitt Tipoff Games

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Photo Courtesy of Harry Figiel/Illini Athletics

Jacob Grandison attempts a pass during the game against Arkansas State on Friday at State Farm Center. The team is now making their way north to compete against Marquette for the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

With two conference games already in the books, No. 11 Illinois will hit the road for the first time this season, heading north to take on Marquette for the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games.

Both teams hold identical 2-0 records, with Marquette picking up wins against Southern Illinois Edwardsville and New Hampshire to open the regular season and Illinois recording wins over Jackson State and Arkansas State.

The Golden Eagles are coached by Shaka Smart, who moved from Texas to Milwaukee this offseason after leading the Longhorns to a Big 12 tournament title and a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, where they were upset in the first round by Abilene Christian.

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood has some history with Smart, as the coaches squared off in the NCAA tournament when Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin upset Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth in 2014, while the pair both coached in the Big 12 when Underwood was at Oklahoma State and Smart was at Texas.

“He’s been a good friend; he’s been a guy that’s been an acquaintance,” Underwood said. “We’ve had conversations over the years and how he built VCU when I was at Stephen F., and he’s been a guy that I’ve picked his brain on various things, both inside and outside of basketball.”

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    Aside from Smart, the Illini have some history with Marquette guard Darryl Morsell, who played in the Big Ten with Maryland for four seasons before transferring to the Golden Eagles for his graduate season.

    Morsell has made an immediate impact at his new school, as he is averaging a team-high 23.5 points while shooting 60% and 50% from beyond the arc. He also tore the Illini apart last season with the​​ Terrapins, recording a team-high 19 points in his team’s upset win in Champaign.

    Forward Justin Lewis and guard Stevie Mitchell could also cause problems on offense, as they average 17 and 10.5 points, respectively, while Lewis is also a force on the boards with a team-high 11 rebounds per game.

    Jacob Grandison expects his team to constantly be put under pressure, but sticking with the game plan and not letting them stray away from their principles will be essential.

    “It’s just about what we do and making sure we’re sound with our principles,” Grandison said. “Getting pressured is common in basketball, so it’s just about being tough, getting open, tough with the ball and just executing.”

    With Kofi Cockburn serving the final game of his suspension, the Illini will likely continue to rely on Grandison and Coleman Hawkins on both ends of the court, with the latter recording a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double against the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Friday. Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk has also played a big role in Cockburn’s absence, recording big minutes while averaging 6.5 points and 10 rebounds through two games this season.

    The Illini’s guard quartet of Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams will also cause problems on Monday night.

    Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. from Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee.

    “Marquette is one of the storied programs in college basketball, got a tremendous fanbase, play in a great venue,” Underwood said. “I’m expecting a sellout crowd or close to it, and none of them are going to be for us.”

     

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