A valiant comeback effort fell short as Illinois Basketball lost the first of a tough three-game stretch. Can the Illini rebound with a confidence-boosting win this week?
Illinois Basketball head coach Brad Underwood knew it. Guard Andres Feliz knew it and, most of all, Illini fans that watched their team’s deficit grow to 27 points in the first half knew it too. The Illini just didn’t have it for the full 40 minutes on Monday night.
We started slow and they were really hitting their shots. They’re a tough team, and we just weren’t with it tonight. We have to get better.
– Illinois guard Andres Feliz via Associated Press/ESPN
Even though the Hurricanes, now 5-3, shot lights out in the first half, the Illini did not help their cause. Sloppy passes and lackadaisical plays helped attribute to ten turnovers in the first half alone. The main question now is if this much-hyped Illini team can rebound and earn a statement win. Two of those opportunities will arise soon as they travel to College Park to face No. 3 Maryland on Saturday and then welcome in newly ranked No. 4 Michigan to Champaign on Wednesday.
If the Illini are to have a chance to win at least one of the next two, players such as Ayo Dosunmu (12 points, 5-14 shooting) and Giorgi Bezhanishvili (6 points) will need to improve their offensive output. The faces of last year’s Illini team have struggled to reproduce their outcome from a season ago.
Some of that struggle may be due to a bright spot for the Illini, freshman Kofi Cockburn. The Jamaican big man was 8/8 from the field Monday might which accounted for much of his career-high 23 points. Although he has slowed from averaging a double-double, he continues to be an imposing force that could be a game-changer in the near future for the Illini.
Within the next week and a half or so, Illinois and their fans will have a better idea of what their team is actually made of. Can they compete for 40 minutes with arguably the two best teams in the Big Ten right now? Or will they come out slow for one half, as they have done with Arizona and Miami, and be on the wrong end of a blowout?
If this Illinois team can play together for 40 minutes in these next two games, then don’t be surprised if No. 3 or No. 4 has a one in the loss column come the middle of next week.