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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / No. 12 Illinois eyes comeback in showdown with Iowa after recent setback

No. 12 Illinois eyes comeback in showdown with Iowa after recent setback

Publish Date: 02/24/2024
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

Securing a seven-point lead and regaining possession with one minute left makes losing in regulation nearly impossible. However, No. 12 Illinois experienced precisely that in a 90-89 defeat against Penn State on Wednesday night. The Fighting Illini (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten) aim to bounce back from this setback on Saturday afternoon against Iowa (16-11, 8-8) in Champaign, Ill.

Recovering from the shock of the loss will be challenging for the Illini, who had a 14-point lead in the second half and were up by 10 with 2:30 remaining.

Concerns Rise Over Illini’s Defensive Lapses

Indications of the Illini’s lack of attention to detail were evident as they allowed three uncontested layups during Penn State’s inbounding underneath the basket. Additionally, multiple backdoor cuts resulted in easy layups for the opposition.

Coach Underwood hinted at potential consequences, mentioning the possibility of withholding playing time if defensive performance doesn’t improve. Despite this, he has yet to extend his rotation beyond seven players in the second half of any competitive Big Ten game.

Underwood emphasized that such defensive lapses are unacceptable at this point. Justin Harmon, in particular, allowed four cuts for layups, contributing to six points on out-of-bounds plays covered in the scouting report. The Illini permitted Penn State to match its season-high 90 points despite the Nittany Lions ranking 10th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten league play. The upcoming challenge against Iowa’s third-ranked offense raises concerns about Illinois’ defensive capabilities.

Hawkeyes Surge, Illini Defense Under Scrutiny

The Hawkeyes, shooting at 50 per cent in recent wins, have re-entered the NCAA Tournament discussion. Illinois has struggled against skilled guards, with Tony Perkins and Payton Sandfort leading the Hawkeyes during Big Ten play. Perkins’ impressive scoring streak, including five consecutive 20-point games, makes him a significant threat.

In the past meeting with Iowa, Perkins scored a career-high 32 points. In recognizing Illinois’ offensive capabilities, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery prioritizes defensive performance. He emphasizes the challenge of facing an aggressive opponent with multiple drivers and sizes, advocating for strategic bench rotation to maintain defensive intensity.

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