Bob Asmussen: As good as it gets

Jan. 2—HOT OFF THE PRESS — #Illini kick 'Cats to the curb

— The News-Gazette (@news_gazette) January 3, 2024

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Turns out, the season isn't over for Illinois.

Playing its first Big Ten game since the indefinite suspension of Terrence Shannon Jr., Brad Underwood's guys roared to a 46-29 halftime lead and rolled 96-66 against sort-of-rival Northwestern.

The test gets a bit steeper next time out when the 11-2 Illini play Friday at No. 1 Purdue. That is a problem for later-in-the-week Illini. For now, they should celebrate being undefeated in the Big Ten and ranked in the Top 10.


Take a star player like Shannon off of a young team and the result would likely be a disaster. But the experience on the current Illinois roster gives the team hope.

It will take more than two games for the Illini to adjust They just lost their go-to guy. Getting over that absence might take a month or more.


This year's team was already scrappy. Guys have been diving on the court for loose balls all season. That tends to be a trait for Underwod's team.

The intensity seems to have been turned up a notch or 10. That is mostly a good thing as long as it is sustainable. By the end of the season these guys are going to need a break.


The Illini entered Tuesday's game ranked No. 9. No matter what happens Friday at Mackey Arena, my guess is they stay in or near the Top 10. Beat the Boilermakers and it will be Top 5.

Purdue won by double-digits Tuesday night at Maryland. Remember, Matt Painter and his guys suffered their only loss of the season against the team Illinois just beat.


Give game MVP honors to transfer swingman Marcus Domask, who had 32 points, five rebounds and six assists. He will be a key for Illinois the remainder of the season.

His inspired play was a big reason the lively crowd delivered at least five standing ovations.


Shoot like it did in the first half Tuesday — hitting 60 percent of its shots — and Illinois can challenge anybody. Even, gulp, Purdue. It helped that the Wildcats hit only 31 percent.


Good news Illinois fans: Boo Buie is finally running out of eligibility. It seems like he has been decked out in purple since pre-pandemic. Not quite. His first season was 2019-20.

On the fan hatred scale, he hasn't reached reviled status at Illinois like some of those Iowa guys or anyone from Indiana.


BTN had two rising stars in the profession working the game: Conor Onion and ex-Purdue star Robbie Hummel called the action. If Illinois could get a do-over, it would have signed Hummel out of high school. He reportedly wanted to play in Champaign-Urbana, a community he knew well.


The building was full despite the fact that the students don't have classes for two more weeks. On a weeknight just after a holiday, the crowd was impressive. Nice to see recently retired News-Gazette writer Mary Schenk with screen time.

Good for Goode! @lukegoode10 x @IlliniMBB

— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 3, 2024


It was a chilly walk from the parking lot to the arena Tuesday night, with temperatures in the low 30s and winds cooling it off even more. Too bad it wasn't like Jan. 2, 2023, when the temperature hit 52.


Always great to see Dave Eanet, the Voice of Northwestern sports 30-plus years. He is very good at his job and super friendly.

Eanet is working with former Wildcats star Billy McKinney, who spent decades in the NBA both as a player and executive. He is currently the mayor of his hometown Zion.

McKinney joined the Northwestern broadcast team three years ago when Joey Meyer stepped away. Sadly, the one-time DePaul coach passed away Friday at age 74.

REWIND ⏮️ @quincyguerrier fast break thrown down for @IlliniMBB

— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 3, 2024