One of the toughest things for a team to do is play at a high level after winning a big game.
Illinois was in that situation Tuesday night at the Assembly Hall, taking on Norfolk State just a few days after going to Gonzaga and knocking off the Bulldogs in a showdown of nationally ranked teams.
The Fighting Illini hardly played their best in the 64-54 win that pushes them to 11-0 on the season.
They trailed most of the first half, shot only 35 percent from the field and struggled from the 3-point line, an area they normally thrive in. Illinois nailed only six treys in the win as it shot 26 percent from beyond the arc. Brandon Paul scored 14 points to pave the way.
Still, in the end, all that matters is that the Illini got the win, Of course, head coach John Groce was not pleased with the effort and his players shouldn’t be either.
“I don’t think over the course of the 40 minutes our energy, our focus, our effort level was where it’s been,” Groce said in a post-game press conference.
No doubt about it. Part of it obviously has to do with the fact that Illinois was coming off a huge win on the road. It’s normal for a team to have an emotional letdown in its next game.
Fortunately for Illinois, it didn’t allow the letdown to lead to a loss.
But if the Illini are going to build on this strong start and avoid the collapse they endured last year after a strong start, they have to come ready to play night in and night out.
The Big Ten is the toughest conference in the nation and if Illinois is going to be one of the better teams in the league, it better make sure it’s ready to play at a high level regardless of the opponent.
Brian Lester is a featured Big Ten columnist and college basketball writer for Rant Sports. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association as well.
Follow him on Twitter @BLester1993 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.