Illinois suffered an ugly exhibition loss at Eastern Illinois on Friday night as new Illini head coach Brad Underwood was very disappointed in his team’s effort.
The Panthers hosted the charity exhibition game and came away with an 80-67 win over Illinois as Eastern Illinois dominated the second half. Outscoring Illinois 42-25 after the break, the Panthers shot 61 percent from the field in the second frame.
After the game, Underwood made sure to let reporters know that his team’s play won’t be tolerated in the future.
“I take a lot of pride in our teams playing hard and we got totally outplayed and outhustled,” Underwood said to reporters, including Mark Tupper of the Pantagraph. “We never got on the floor for a loose ball.
“We played pretty, like a finesse team. And that’s not one thing I’m about. That’s on me. We’ll get that corrected. At halftime we had one rebound from two guys who have played in the Big Ten a lot (Leron Black and Michael Finke). That will tell you what our effort was about.”
For an Illinois team that is relying heavily on Black and Finke to produce in the frontcourt this season, this game is a very bad sign. Illinois also had 15 second-half turnovers, so it’s not as if the inconsistent frontcourt play was the only culprit for the loss.
Playing what is essentially a true road game against a lower-level Division I school that is only 50 miles away was never going to be an easy game for Illinois. But a Big Ten team getting badly outplayed by a middle-of-the-pack team from the Ohio Valley Conference is eye-opening.
Long story short: Illinois needs to fix some things immediately if they’re going to be any kind of factor in the Big Ten this season. At least freshman guard Mark Smith looks like the real deal, as he finished with 15 points, but the Illini are going to need a lot more than Smith in order to make a run at the postseason.