CHARLESTON — After two scrimmages in which the only sound was squeaking sneakers, shouting coaches and the sound of the basketball bouncing on the floor, the University of Illinois gets a reminder of what it’s like to play in front of a crowd Friday night.
The Illini and Eastern Illinois will play a final exhibition scrimmage at Lantz Gym, a late arrangement that will raise money for the American Red Cross. The matchup will happen one week before Illinois opens the regular season at home against Southern University.
The exhibition tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on some Illini Sports Network radio outlets, including WSOY (1340 AM, Decatur).
With a new head coach and a largely new team, part of Thursday’s Illini practice centered on some things that could be taken for granted.
“Today we’re going to coach how we stand for the national anthem, how to sit for a timeout and how we make a substitution,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “We’ll have a lot of firsts (Friday night).”
After winning a closed-door scrimmage 90-80 at Vanderbilt last weekend, Underwood said he’s excited to see how his freshmen react to a sellout crowd of about 5,400 and to continue experimenting with lineups and substitutions.
“We’re getting better. That’s all I look for,” he said. “It’s all about teaching moments and getting film so you can bring guys in and start making adjustments.
"For this group it’s the first time they’ll be wearing (the Illini) jersey and it’s important for our freshmen to see what a college atmosphere is like.”
Underwood said his first Illini team is very early in a learning process. And he’s still learning, too.
“You may see me work on some different lineups,” Underwood said. “That’s my plan going in. You may see me go a little smaller. You may see me play all of the freshmen together.”
Underwood said he’s been most pleased with the way his team has rebounded the ball. He’s been far less pleased with a tendency to get silly fouls. So that will be under the coach’s scrutiny Friday.
“We’re adjusting to how to play the smart way,” he said. “The other day we committed four or five fouls in the backcourt after the other team secured a rebound. We can’t make those mistakes.
“You’ll find that free throws are a big part of what we do. When we’re aggressive we are getting to the free throw line a lot. I’d like to see us get 30 to 35, 40 free throws a game.”
Underwood said he and Eastern Illinois coach Jay Spoonhour have yet to talk about the ground rules.
“We’ll probably play in segments,” he said. That could include letting players remain in the game who have exceeded the normal limit of five personal fouls.