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MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Illini are ready for fired up Spartans

Jan. 11—CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Brad Underwood heard everything Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his Spartans suffered an 88-74 loss on Sunday to Northwestern.

Izzo, who definitely less than pleased with his team, downplayed the use analytics.

So the veteran coach, who has in the past brought out football pads for his practices, has had three days to prepare his team for a trip to the State Farm Center for an 8 p.m. contest tonight against the 10th-rated Illinois Fighting Illini.

"One thing that coach Izzo and I agree on is what it takes to win," Underwood said. "Winning is competing. Winning is fighting. It's usually the team that plays the hardest and the team that is the most connected that's going to win."

And with all of that said, Underwood knows his Illini are going to be facing a fired up Spartans squad that is 9-6 overall and just 1-3 in the Big Ten Conference.

"What do you think after hearing that press conference?" Underwood said. "Look at it the other way. Northwestern coach Chris Collins, whose team we beat by 30 last Tuesday, got his team to play with a different edge, a different fight.

"So, if we don't come ready we will probably getting bloodied in the battle. It's a first-punch mentality. You don't want to get hit because it might be a knockout blow."

And, does it mean anything more that Illinois has back-to-back games at home against Michigan State tonight and Maryland on Sunday.

"I don't put any more value, it's about the opponent," said Underwood. "But, what makes this league great is the true challenge of finding a gold bar, which is a game that you steal from an opponent on their home floor. Those are really, really hard to get.

"We have one this season at Rutgers. Everyone is trying find them."

Illinois, 11-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, will still be without fifth-year senior Terrence Shannon Jr., who remains suspended after being charged with rape in Douglas County, Kan.

Shannon's lawyers are seeking a temporary restraining order against the university to lift the suspension, and according to published reports there is a hearing on Friday.

"There's no change in Terrence's status as of now," Underwood said. "I'm worried about Michigan State."

The Spartans are led by graduate senior guard Tyson Walker (20.6 points per game) and senior guard A.J. Hoggard (11.3 points and 5.1 assists per game).

"Michigan State has a very experienced and explosive guard group," Underwood said.

Illinois will counter with graduate senior Marcus Domask, who was the Big Ten and AP Player of the Week for Jan. 1 to Jan. 7. Domask, who averaged 29.0 points per game, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in a win over Northwester and a loss to Purdue, has taken over as the top threat in the Illini offense with the suspension of Shannon.

Forwards Quincy Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins are averaging 11.5 and 10.4 points per game for Illinois, who has six players averaging more than 4 rebounds a game.

Guerrier, who appeared to reinjure his wrist in the loss to Purdue, has recovered and will be a full-go tonight.

"He's good," Underwood said. "He shot the cover off of it during Sunday's practice, so he's fine."

Underwood added that freshman guard Niccolo Moretti, who had a season-high 6 points against Valparaiso on Nov. 17, 2023, is progressing in his recovery from his foot injury.

Tonight's contest is an 8 p.m. tipoff. The game can be seen on FS1 and it can be heard on the Illini Sports Network, including Danville stations WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.