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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:
Thursday’s loss to Indiana wasn’t without its issues. Mainly the fact Trayce Jackson-Davis was nearly unstoppable in the paint en route to his game-high 35 points as just one of several highly efficient Hoosiers.
Indiana shot 61.8 percent as a team, which is the best an opponent has fared against Illinois this season. There wasn’t much shot challenging and certainly little shot blocking against the Hoosiers. That’s something of anomaly this season. The Illini lead the Big Ten in blocked shots at 6.05 per game. The two they had Thursday night are tied for second fewest with the two blocked shots against Lindenwood. One Braggin’ Rights blocked shot is the season low.
That Big Ten-best blocked shots mark had Illinois ranked third nationally behind Utah Valley and Iona. Three Illini have blocked at least 20 shots through 19 games, with Dain Dainja (28), Matthew Mayer (25) and Coleman Hawkins (20) leading the way. Seven other Illinois players have blocked multiple shots, and even freshman walk-on Paxton Warden has a blocked shot to his credit this season.
Illinois blocked a season-high 12 shots in its win against Texas and had 10 blocks apiece in wins against Bethune-Cookman and Michigan State. The latter included Mayer blocking a season-high six shots.
So what’s made the Illini so effective in swatting away potential scoring chances?
“I really just think in practice (assistant coach Chester Frazier) does a great job of just pushing us and making us go hard,” freshman wing Ty Rodgers said about what’s turned this team into consistent shot blockers. He has three himself this season.
“We preach tough two,” Rodgers continued. “Obviously, we’re going to try and force everybody off the three-point line. It’s getting to the rim, Mozgoving with two hands and not fouling. I think that’s something we work on every day, so it’s been big for us.”
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is [email protected], and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).