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MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Illini wants to continue win streak | Sports

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CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois men’s basketball team has won its last four games and to win its fifth in a row, the Illini will take on a familiar foe.

The Illini will take on the Indiana Hoosiers today at 7:30 p.m. at the State Farm Center.

Both teams have had ups and downs this season with Illinois losing some key games early in the Big Ten season and Indiana losing three in a tow before beating Wisconsin on Sunday.

“Indiana was picked to win the league and has had an up and down season,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “They have the best player in the league in Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and he is having a phenomenal year. If you got 24 rebounds in a game, you are dominant.”

As for the Illini, there is one thing Underwood said is the reason for the recent success.

“Defense wins and we have not turned the ball over much,” Underwood said. “We have been selective in our transition play and we have been stacking a good part of play together. We have not have had times where we go to our bench prematurely and that has been a big piece.”

Illinois is coming off a 78-60 win on Monday against Minnesota and Underwood said it was the second half that was the key.

“We did what we had to do on the road. It was a good second half for us as far as defensive accountability,” Underwood said. “We were very efficient on offense. We did a much better job on the boards and that is what we will need tomorrow.”

While players like Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer has done great as starters, Underwood notes players like freshmen Ty Rodgers and Jayden Epps and sophomore RJ Melendez.

“He’s (Rodgers) guarded some of the best of the country and he’s proud of it,” Underwood said. “Look at what he did with USA basketball. He was very invaluable and he is also a great passer. He continues to grow and understanding what team ball is.

“Jayden has gone into the office and has talked more and you start to understand where people are at and stop making mistakes.”

Also, Underwood believes that all of his players use passing and that sets the tempo.

“It is more about who can pass and can you make the right reads. It is advantageous to have people that can pass,” Underwood said. “It’s an NBA thing and there is a huge advantage to that. We have tried to get guys who can push it, but the thing is making good decisions and we have to learn that.”

Along with Jackson-Davis the Hoosiers have players like Miller Kopp, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Jordan Geronimo.

“Hood has had a good a year as any freshman,” Underwood said. “There are some veterans like Miller Kopp who has been there for a while and can shoot well. We have to play extremely well against a team that protects the basket well and any team with Trayce in the past is a dangerous team, we have to keep them off the glass keep them off transition and it will be another tough Big Ten game.”

Jackson-Davis has 17.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

“Trayce is a very unselfish player and can pass the ball, so you pick your poison when you deal with him,” Underwood said. “He is very capable of getting a rebound and putting the ball in transition. It all starts with Trayce.

“There will not be one guy guarding him. We had six reaches that were totally uncalled for. We have to do better on that. Fouls are defensive mistakes and we had three that we were in the circle and we were in the arc and we can’t do that. We have to keep from fouling Trayce.”

After just playing on Monday, Underwood said playing a few days after that and five days later against Ohio State is just the way the season has gone.

“You are talking about the shortest calendar year we have had,” Underwood said. “It is how the calendar fell, we are 4-5 days shorter in playing the games and you mix in a bye and you have six games and it gets pretty challenging. Our guys like it, but it is pretty hectic and it was the time to get things together.”

While the upperclassmen understand the importance of the rivalry, Underwood said assistants like Chester Frazier has helped to make younger players understand.

“Chester has the unique advantage of playing in it,” Underwood said. “It is two historic programs. As a kid, I always saw Bobby (Knight) and Lou (Henson) go after it and it was great. Both of our fanbases are great and it is one of the things that makes this rivalry fun. For them, you try to make it another game, but they are fans and they pick that up.”

The game will be broadcast on FS1 and on the Illini Sports Network, which includes WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1

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