No. 18 Illinois looks to rebound against Alabama A&M following disappointing previous outing

University+of+Illinois+Men%E2%80%99s+Basketball+takes+on+Pennsylvania+State+University+on+a+very+foggy+Saturday%2C+December+10%2C+2022+morning+game.

Sidney Malone

University of Illinois Men’s Basketball takes on Pennsylvania State University on a very foggy Saturday, December 10, 2022 morning game.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

There’s no sugarcoating it. Last Saturday was a painful performance to witness, as the Illini fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference after losing against the Penn State Nittany Lions by a 15-point margin.

Head coach Brad Underwood was furious with the lack of effort and leadership displayed by the team and wasn’t afraid to call out specific players, one of which being senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr.

“I didn’t take it no way,” Shannon said of Underwood’s comments. “I just looked at it as a coach being frustrated at one of his best players and leaders. I didn’t show up against Penn State and I can’t do that. I can’t have nights like that. I took responsibility for it, I talked to my team, I just told them we have to step up and we can’t have those off games like that again.”

Junior forward Coleman Hawkins also noted the lack of aggression recently and addressed the team’s need for leadership.

“It’s tough because it goes both ways,” Hawkins said. “You get on guys, you yell at them and then all of a sudden they’re telling you (that) you gotta chill out. I’ve yelled at guys in media timeouts but they always seem to cool me down. I think we need to get on people. I think it’s been a little too timid, and just too soft. In a way, I think we needed a week like the week we had.”

No. 18 Illinois now has a chance to get back on track as it gets set to welcome Alabama A&M to Champaign on Saturday. The Illini have had a week of practices to get refocused amidst the final exam period, and the preparation for the Bulldogs appears to have been much better than the preparation leading up to the Nittany Lions last week.

“It was a good week of practice,” Underwood said. “It’s also a mentally challenging week of practice from the academic side, so once we get through this finals thing we can really hone in.”

Saturday will see the first ever meeting between the Illini and the Bulldogs. Alabama A&M currently holds a 3-6 record, with Illinois serving as its first ranked opponent in 2022–23.

The Bulldogs are, on paper, a perfect team to rebound against. The Illini have the tools needed to cruise past the visitors and see their star performers turn up big. However, as Underwood pointed out in the last outing, what Illinois needs more than ever right now is a player to step up and lead. The team looked lost at times against Penn State, with nobody taking charge. In addition to Shannon, the Illini need veteran players like Hawkins and fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer to help the team rally on both ends of the court.

“Nothing’s bigger than our culture,” Underwood said. “Coleman’s gotta be a keeper of our culture and a leader. The accountability is what I was frustrated with (against Penn State). If you go watch anything from our secret scrimmage to the game at Texas, effort-wise, and then watch the other night, you’ll see why I was upset.”

Illinois (7-3 overall, 0-2 B1G) will look to take down Alabama A&M (3-6 overall) at State Farm Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.

 

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