CHICAGO – For the second year in a row, this is the program’s early exit from the Big Ten Tournament.
They lost to Penn State for the third time in the 2022-2023 season, each time in disappointing fashion.
Again, inconsistency has prevented Illinois from finding a way to build sustainable momentum over the past five months. Big, resume-building NCAA Tournament wins were followed by forgettable losses from November through March.
Unfortunately, one of the latter happened in the Illini’s first game of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at the United Center. Facing its third straight regular-season loss, Illinois fell behind 17-4 late in the second half and couldn’t recover.
The Nittany Lions’ 79-76 win eliminates Brad Underwood’s squad from the Big Ten tournament after just one game for the second straight season. A third loss to Penn State drops Illinois’ overall record to 20-12, which would be good enough for a tournament berth thanks to their resume.
But the rampant inconsistency means the Illini will likely face a lower seed, somewhere between No. 8 and No. 10.
Still, Underwood’s enthusiasm for the group remains despite the season’s disappointing roller coaster ride.
“I am delighted. This team can go as long and as far as they want. We proved it. I thought we played pretty hard tonight and, again, credit to Penn State. I was more them than us. You have nights like that,” Underwood said when asked about his overall thoughts on the NCAA tournament. “We started to get a little bit of balance with Dine (Dainja), I thought he was terrific tonight. Then we started hooking up with Coleman (Hawkins) and Terence (Shannon) and Matt (Mayer) and we got some pretty good shots with Luke (Goode), with RJ, I think we’re in good shape. »
Those players, along with their coach, will face the task of trying to advance Illinois to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2005. Much of the team will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a member of the Illini basketball team or college basketball as a whole.
They’ll have to learn fast if they hope to find their groove soon when the bright March lights do come on.
“I think it’s finding a little consistency. He’s finding a little bit of positive momentum,” Underwood said of what needs to happen for Illinois to succeed in the NCAA tournament. “It creates energy, the young guys continue to grow.” “
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