October 31, 2022
With the majority of its production from 2021–22 now gone, Illinois men’s basketball looked very different on the court on Friday night. Illini fans got to see the team’s incoming transfers and freshmen in action for the first time at State Farm Center.
In spite of the substantial 87-52 victory, there was still noticeable room for improvement in regard to Illinois’ play. The poor opening 10 minutes as well as the sloppy turnovers committed throughout the game’s entirety highlighted the necessity to improve communication on the court.
“We have a saying that quiet teams lose,” head coach Brad Underwood said. “Until we get five guys that are communicating, we’re switching and there’s ball screens involved. Some of our youth showed up in that area but we have to get everybody talking. Communication is vital on the defensive end. I don’t care about the percentages or any of that, it’s the mistakes that we made on that end because of (a lack of communication).”
Some of the less-than-stellar shooting percentages from certain players may have been chalked up to nerves or simply getting used to the atmosphere at State Farm Center. After all, the exhibition served as the first time the incoming players got to play in front of the Orange Krush crowd, including senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who recently transferred from Texas Tech.
“It was different,” Shannon said. “I’m used to that environment, and I love it. I made the decision to come here and it’s my new home, so it’s just about me being comfortable and my teammates are going to help me do that.”
Shannon’s 12 points were the most scored by any of the transfers or freshmen players, despite the senior’s 30% shooting from the field being below average for the former Red Raider. Illinois’ shooting numbers were low across the board, particularly in the first half where the team shot 1-13 from beyond the arc.
However, with eight of the 13 rostered players taking the floor for the first time ever on Friday, there is no reason for the Illini to hit the panic button. Junior forward Coleman Hawkins, whose 15 points tied sophomore guard RJ Melendez as Illinois’ top scorer against Quincy, noted how nerves can affect a player’s game on their debut.
“The ball feels kind of different when there’s people there,” Hawkins said. “People are watching you, it’s the first live event, and you’re not at the practice facility. We’ve all experienced that and I think (the freshmen players) adjusted well later in the game.”
While the issue of nerves and a lack of communication may have prevented a larger deficit on the scoreboard between the two teams, the Illini were able to outplay the Hawks by a much greater margin in the second half, outscoring the visitors 53-28.
The exhibition not only gave fans a chance to witness the new-look team in action for the first time, but it also gave Underwood and the rest of the coaching staff plenty to look at as the team prepares for the official season opener against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 7.