Illinois laments Indiana, Jackson-Davis dominance | Sports
CHAMPAIGN — In the wake of an 80-65 Big Ten win for Indiana inside Illinois’ State Farm Center late Thursday, Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood set his coaching sportcoat aside and put on his salesman outfit.
Underwood tried to sell his version of events that led to a dominant Indiana performance and a humbling Fighting Illini loss.
Take Trayce Jackson-Davis, for example. The Indiana All-American had one of his best games in an Indiana uniform.
He scored 35, the most he’s ever scored in a Big Ten game and the second-most he’s tallied in any game. Jackson-Davis was 15-for-19 from the field to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
What did Underwood think? Sell away.
“His 35 didn’t beat us. You add up his five assists, those are what hurt you,” Underwood said.
“I’m not worried about his 35. I’m worried about (Jordan) Geronimo’s 13 when he’s averaging five. Dain (Dainja) guarded him pretty good for about three possessions, and then we just laid behind him,” Underwood said.
It’s an interesting point of view. To Underwood’s point? Indiana was 52.7% from the field when you take Jackson-Davis’ production out.
Underwood was displeased with Illinois’ ability to make catches too easy for Jackson-Davis, though Indiana wisely ran most of Jackson-Davis’ action from the top of the key, where Dainja was at a disadvantage when the quicker Jackson-Davis put the ball on the floor.
Illinois also didn’t double-team Jackson-Davis, something Jackson-Davis himself said was instrumental in his big game. Underwood said Illinois tried at one point.
“We’ve got a double package, and we actually tried it. It doesn’t show that, but we tried it, but it didn’t matter. It was an off-night. Mentally we were fatigued, and physically we were worse,” Underwood said.
Not that Underwood didn’t appreciate Jackson-Davis. He had high praise for Indiana’s star.
“This one is slippery. This one is a freak athlete. This one is the best athlete in our league at any position,” Underwood said. “That’s how Dain has to play. He’s like that, but if you let a really good player catch it in his spots, he’s a problem.”
Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr., the only offensive threat for the Illini with 26 points, echoed Underwood’s sentiments on the catches.
“We have to make the catches hard for him. We have to front him and help, but he got a lot of easy catches, and we have to do a better job defensively. It’s something we learn from,” Shannon said.
Illinois had plenty of self-inflicted problems. The Illini were ice-cold at times from the field, only a couple of brief spurts in both halves got Illinois up to 38.7%.
Illinois was atrocious at the line, converting just 39.1%, including a woeful 4-for-13 in the second half.
Underwood also said Illini swingman Matthew Mayer, who entered the game averaging 19 points in his last two games, was sick. Mayer played 22 minutes, but was held scoreless. Underwood noted Illinois has gone 19 days without a day off.
Those Illini shortcomings gave Underwood the room to continue his sell job. You can be the judge whether he is convincing or whether this is a buyer beware situation.
“It’s very hard to score enough twos to beat you in a college game. Our problems were on the offensive side. If we make any free throws and any layups? Thirty-five is not going to outdo you, and no one else (on Indiana) was really involved,” Underwood said.
The Hoosiers’ 61.8% shooting was the third-best shooting performance in a Big Ten game by any team since 2001.
Jackson-Davis had his ninth 30-plus scoring game and his 37th game with 20 points or more.
Jordan Geronimo’s 13 points, combined with the 10 he scored against Wisconsin last Saturday, gave him back-to-back double-digit scoring games for only the second time in his career.
For Indiana? It was the Hoosiers’ first victory in Champaign since 2019. Indiana’s last two wins at Illinois (2016, 2019) were even more dominant than Thursday’s was. In 2019, the Hoosiers won by 18. In 2016, Indiana rolled to a 27-point margin.