CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nursing a late-game lead over Marshall that topped 20 points more than once, Illinois coach Brad Underwood took a timeout and unloaded on his team.
Coasting toward its fourth straight win, Underwood thought the Illini had lost their focus — taking questionable shots and playing soft defense.
“You’ve got to learn to finish, you’ve got to learn to make free throws and you’ve got to learn to go ’til the final horn,” he said after the game.
“You don’t want to know what he said (in the timeout) — it might make you sad,” redshirt sophomore forward Kipper Nichols added. “He had a few choice words for us.”
Illinois (4-0) did close out the Thundering Herd, 91-74, riding 17 points each from Nichols and Leron Black and 11 rebounds from Nichols, who came off the bench.
The Illini held Marshall (4-2) leading scorer Jon Elmore to 14 points. Elmore entered the game averaging 28.3 a game. He was 2-of-11 shooting on the night, including 0 of 5 in the second half. Elmore also came into the game averaging 7.7 assists but had just three Sunday.
Nichols and Underwood said Illinois focused on the junior guard and it worked, but Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said Elmore’s lack of production had more to do with him than Illinois.
“It was all Jon. He’s pressing because he hasn’t learned to trust the players he has this year,” said D’Antoni, whose team includes nine freshmen and sophomores. “That’s a young ball club.”
One of those freshmen, Jarrod West, led Marshall with 23 points.
Mark Smith and Michael Finke added 13 each for Illinois.
Marshall: After falling Thursday to Morehead State, the Thundering Herd have lost two straight. Beyond its starting lineup, Marshall had almost no offensive production Sunday. And if Elmore isn’t scoring, the Herd don’t have an answer on offense.
Illinois: Bench points were again a big key for Illinois. For a second straight game, Nichols scored in double figures off the bench (he had 16 Friday in a win over DePaul) and Trent Frazier added 10. Underwood, though, picked out both Nichols and Frazier during the game for defensive lapses. “Trent, you can’t be that soft!” Underwood yelled on one possession midway through the second half. The Illini also started knocking down 3-pointers for the first time this season, making 7 of 15, including 4 of 6 in the second half after entering the game 15 of 65 (23.1 percent).
D’ANTONI HOLDS COURT
During a long, playful postgame monologue, D’Antoni covered a wide range of subjects, from Croatian travel – he likes it – to his wardrobe and rules and officiating changes aimed at reducing contact. He thinks those changes eventually will improve the game.
“It’s competition. But it’s also entertainment,” he said. “To get to see the court flowing and it’s not sumo wrestling. It’s happened in the NBA game and it’ll happen in the college game.”
Asked about his customary blazer-and-T-shirt combination, D’Antoni defended his wardrobe preference.
“I’m from the country, man. . You know what? It’s comfortable. I don’t know who started that tie stuff, anyway.”
Underwood, told he had a tough act to follow as he began his news conference, tossed a couple of popcorn kernels in his mouth that D’Antoni had dropped on the podium.
“Can I eat the crumbs he left behind?” Underwood asked.
Marshall ends its two-game road swing, hosting North Carolina Central on Wednesday (Illinois will host the Eagles on Friday).
Illinois will host Augustana, a Division III school from Rock Island, Illinois, on Wednesday.