CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois head basketball Brad Underwood didn’t hold anything back after the Fighting Illini lost at home to Penn State Saturday.
The 74-59 loss comes following an upset win against #2 Texas at Madison Square Garden.
#17 Illinois (7-3, 0-2 Big Ten) only had two players in double-figures scoring: Matthew Mayer with 14 and Skyy Clark with 11. Defensive mistakes would allow the Nittany Lions to shoot 50% from the field as well as 50% on three-pointers. The 12 three-pointers scored by Penn State marks the most that the Fighting Illini has given up since losing to Iowa in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
Complete lack of leadership and effort
Underwood described the lackluster performance in nine words: “complete lack of leadership and complete lack of effort.”
However, that was not all that Underwood had to say on the matter.
“Inexcusable. Let’s start there,” Underwood said in his opening statement. “That’s not to discredit anything Penn State did. They’re good, I knew it. I had this one circled on the calendar since the league schedule came out.”
“I knew playing in the Jimmy V, that’s one that’s pretty easy to get excited about. I’ve known we were going to have nights like this with an extremely young team. I think we’re the second-youngest in the Power Five. I knew these nights were coming.”
Underwood added, “I can live with all of that except the complete lack of leadership and the complete lack of effort that was given today. Period.”
“From the very first play that they scored to the two practices before this game. Completely unacceptable. The lack of leadership on this team is zero. It’s none. Inexcusable. We’ll find out who wants to be a part of playing hard and doing it the right way.”
All the credit to Penn State. They deserved to win the game. They punched us in the mouth. They’re old, the oldest team in the country. They played like grown men and we played very, very uninspired basketball from the second we landed from Madison Square Garden until now.”
“We have been atrocious in practice, maybe the two worst days of practice leading up to a game I’ve been a part of. That’s leadership. That’s leadership. Plain and simple, leadership. Put it in bold damn print. Leadership. Lack of. And no effort. It’s what happens in this league when you have none of that.”
Illini lineup gave up 47 in the first half, and only scored 59 the entire game
Underwood was asked in the post-game media scrum about his lineups. Specifically, it was whether his best offensive lineup was also his best defensive lineup. If not, what he was doing about it, and whether that restructuring is in progress.
“Who guarded? Who scored? We gave up 47 in the first half. We scored 59 for the game,” Underwood stated. “You tell me which one was good at any end of the court. I have no earthly idea. I was just trying to find guys who play hard.”
This doesn’t have anything to do with Xs and Os. This had everything to do with heart and being tough enough to compete for the jersey that you wear every single day. [The] offense and defense was a disgrace. It didn’t matter who we had on the floor.”
Lack of leadership and amending that process
Underwood was questioned about how the lack of leadership will be amended.
“I don’t know. I read them Trent Frazier’s text. Ask them about that next time you talk to them,” stated Underwood. “He’s leading from Serbia. Everyday guys. Every day.”
Underwood elaborated that it wasn’t about having the media and everyone else kissing their behinds when they play hard at Madison Square Garden and beat a really good team.
“We’ve proven we can beat really good teams,” Underwood said. “But to do it every single day and we had one of our players say it in the locker room, ‘Man, we just lost to Penn State.’ That was our attitude for two days.”
He further stated that this was a game of importance.
“That’s why I’ve had this game circled. There are no easy ones in this league,” he said. “Penn State deserves everything they get. They’re really good. When you let them shoot 27 wide-open 3s and (Jalen) Pickett had 18 (points) at the half and six assists. If he got 30 tonight, I was great with it but he couldn’t have the six assists to go with it. The first possession of the game was a blown coverage because nobody wants to move.”
Underwood is not impressed with the leadership of Terrance Shannon Jr.
Underwood received a question about the leadership of Terrance Shannon Jr. since arriving in Champaign/Urbana. His response was less than cordial.
Underwood blew a raspberry and said, “That’s what I thought of that today.”
Shannon came to Illinois through the transfer window after playing his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons at Texas Tech.
Shannon Jr. gameday performances
Underwood was also questioned about the changes in the past two games. Between those games, Shannon has only scored eight points in regulation.
“I don’t know. Ask him. For two days in practice, I told our staff he was going to be terrible today. For two days,” Underwood said. “You guys know I don’t usually come in here like this after a loss, but I’m just telling you that our approach to this game right now is immature and it lacks a complete 100 percent lack of leadership.”
Underwood retorted, “If I’ve got to go back to leading again, this team’s in trouble. Somebody on this team has to step up.”
The finals week hiatus
The Fighting Illini are not in action this week due to final exams. Underwood was questioned about the team mindset given they have the week off.
“It’s the worst week of the year from a practice standpoint. It’s finals week, [and] it’s hard,” he said. “We have two days off in there because we have heavy days of finals. We just try to get guys in the gym a little bit. We’ll try to get back to our normal game preparation.”
“We need guys to do well on their finals so they can make it to the court,” he adds. “It’s a hard week, but this is going to be more about soul searching and meetings and so on and so forth. It won’t actually be until late in the week practicing because there’s not a lot of opportunity with our finals schedule.”
Underwood on hockey subs
Apparently, in past games, substitutes were brought in from the hockey team. A question arose as to whether those subs were seeking that leadership on the fly.
Underwood did have good things to say about one of those subs.
“We have one guy who plays hard consistently every day. One guy. Period,” Underwood says. “One guy. One guy: Sencire [Harris]. He plays hard every single day.”
“It doesn’t matter hockey subs, two subs at a time, three,” he added. “I was just trying to find somebody who played hard and actually cared about trying to help us win today and not having 97 other agendas.”
The Fighting Illini is back in action this Saturday, Dec. 17 in a home game against Alabama A&M.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.