Four straight wins by an average of nearly 16 points have boosted Illinois over the .500 mark in the Big Ten and reinforced early season notions that they have what it takes to defend last year’s run to a share of the regular-season conference title.
A victory at home Thursday night in Champaign, Ill., against conference rival Indiana would probably get the Fighting Illini (13-5, 4-3 Big Ten) back into the Top 25. It would also quash the Hoosiers’ hopes of backing up Saturday’s 63-45 rout of then-No. 18 Wisconsin with a quality road win.
Illinois is coming off a 78-60 thumping of Minnesota on Monday in Minneapolis. Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer led four players in double figures with 19 points and added 10 rebounds for his first career double-double.
The important thing for Illini coach Brad Underwood, though, is that he’s seeing the benefits of developing depth pay off. Mayer was one of four reserves who helped stem the effects of first-half foul trouble for a trio of starters at Minnesota.
“I don’t look to the past very often,” Underwood said. “I just don’t. I look at us getting better every day.”
Terrence Shannon Jr. averages a team-high 17.6 points per game for Illinois, while Mayer checks in at 11.1 and Dain Dainja contributes 10.4, plus 5.8 rebounds, in just 19.3 minutes.
The Illini are allowing only 61.3 points per game over their winning streak but will be tested by Indiana’s 1-2 punch of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Jackson-Davis is coming off an 18-point, 12-rebound, five-blocked shot performance against Wisconsin, while Hood-Schifino chipped in 16 points.
The big difference for the Hoosiers (11-6, 2-4) Saturday was defense. After allowing at least 84 points in each of their previous three games, all losses, they stifled the short-handed Badgers, holding them to their second-lowest point total of the season.
“When we’re in our right spots and do our defense right, it’s a lot different and that’s what you saw today,” Jackson-Davis said.
Indiana leads the all-time series 94-91, including a 65-63 win last March in the Big Ten quarterfinals that helped earn an NCAA at-large bid.
–Field Level Media