'We just needed some life'

Mar. 16—MINNEAPOLIS — Brad Underwood called an early second half timeout in Friday night's Big Ten tournament quarterfinal game against Ohio State and used that time to eviscerate his team for its not-good-enough effort.

Less than 24 hours later the scenario repeated itself. Nebraska turned an 11-point halftime lead into a 15-point advantage just two minutes into the second half after back-to-back buckets from Brice Williams and Keisei Tominaga.

Illinois was on the ropes — again — in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. So Underwood called another timeout. And didn't say a thing.

"There wasn't anything else to say," Underwood said. He'd said his piece in the locker room at halftime.

"I was just trying to stop momentum," the Illinois coach continued. "There wasn't anything I could create. There wasn't anything I could do. They were either going to have enough pride to try to work it out themselves, or we were going to get beat by 20."

That timeout huddle belonged to the Illinois players. Quincy Guerrier spoke up. So did Luke Goode, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask.

"It became a very energetic, very positive huddle," Underwood said. "It was a group connecting to be very blunt. ... Everybody chimed in. You could tell everybody was on the same page."

Illinois outscored Nebraska 58-32 after that timeout. Turned a 15-point deficit into a 15-point lead with 2 minutes to play. Then clinched its spot in Sunday's Big Ten tournament championship game against Wisconsin with a 98-87 victory.

"We just came together in the locker room at halftime and realized we have an opportunity to play in a championship (Sunday), and we couldn't do that without having a better second half," Goode said. "(Underwood) was pretty animated and just held us to a higher standard than we were playing. We didn't really do any Xs and Os. He reminded us that we didn't play good and we were the best team in the country and needed to start playing like it."

The quick timeout in the second half served as another reminder. That one stuck.

"We could tell the energy was low," Illinois guard Ty Rodgers said. "We could feel it within ourselves. We just needed some life. Everybody was saying little things to get us going."

Rodgers jumpstarted the comeback attempt with an offensive rebound and putback. Guerrier kept it going with a putback dunk. Goode, Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins all knocked down three-pointers, and Shannon put the finishing touches on his record-setting 40-point game to close out the comeback.

"We've been in situations like this before," Rodgers said. Like Friday night against Ohio State, down 10 with 11 minutes to play.

"Basketball is a game of runs," Rodgers continued. "They came out and popped us. We knew we were going to get back. We just had to get some stops."

Guerrier said the ability to mount comebacks from double-digit deficits on consecutive nights in the tournament was testament to Illinois' maturity. The Syracuse/Oregon transfer is one four fifth-year players on the Illini roster. Hawkins (fourth year) and Goode (third) provide the same.

"We stay together," Guerrier said. "The energy was not good the first half. We were just thinking about getting rebounds and defending. I think that's why we got the win.

"One stop at a time. We were just thinking about get a stop. We weren't even thinking about our offense. it was getting a stop, and our offense came with it."

Underwood stuck with his veterans — and Rodgers — for the duration of the second-half comeback. Domask and Hawkins didn't come off the court. Shannon didn't until he exited to applause with 17 seconds to play after securing his 40-point game.

"I stayed with that group a long time because I was believing in them," Underwood said. "That's a difference between veterans and a young team. We have some veterans who were a part of a very young team that know what that's like. They stepped up. They care. That's all you can ask for as a coach."