Illinois looks to find footing vs. skidding Minnesota
Illinois has dropped three of its last four games -- its worst stretch since COVID-19 hit in March 2020. But coach Brad Underwood walked out of Saturday's narrow loss at Indiana as if his team had earned its best win of the year.
"I'm a much bigger believer in our team right now than I have been at any point this season," Underwood said. "I'm in a great place with the fight that this team showed today."
Underwood hopes to see similar fight on Monday night in Champaign, Ill., when the Illini (17-9, 8-7 Big Ten) host Minnesota (7-17, 1-13). The conference game originally was scheduled for Feb. 7 before being postponed due to health and safety protocols affecting the Gophers.
Illinois figures to be without leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. (17.0 points per game) for the second straight game as he has been in concussion protocol since taking a blow to the head Tuesday at Penn State.
Illinois' performance without Shannon is one of the reasons Underwood was so encouraged Saturday at Indiana. The Illini never trailed during the final 29 minutes until Indiana took the lead with 30 seconds left in a 71-68 loss.
Luke Goode, appearing in just his third game this year after breaking his foot during the preseason, played a season-high 23 minutes in Shannon's stead and contributed seven points and two assists.
Goode also provides pure 3-point shooting, which is in short supply for both teams. They hold down the bottom two spots in Big Ten play in 3-point shooting -- Illinois at 29.0 percent and Minnesota at 28.5.
The Gophers arrive with a nine-game losing streak -- and they're also rusty. Between their Illinois postponement on Feb. 7 and their Michigan State postponement Wednesday due to the mass shooting on the Spartans' campus, the Gophers have played just twice in the last 16 days.
They did give Penn State a run Saturday night as Jamison Battle missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 3:48 left. Minnesota wound up with a76-69 loss despite Dawson Garcia's 23 points in his first game since suffering a foot injury Jan. 22. Moreover, freshman center Pharrel Payne came off the bench to deliver a career-high 18 points and six assists along with 10 rebounds.
"I let the game come to me," Payne said after the loss. "I had a slow first half; I knew there had to be a change for the second."
--Field Level Media
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