CHAMPAIGN — Sunday's win over Mississippi Valley State wasn't exactly the rebound the University of Illinois basketball team needed.
Yes, Illinois still took possession and cruised past a 1-6 team that has been blown out of the gym this season. It was a good opportunity for the Illini to get their feet back under them and re-acclimated to life on the mainland after a trip to Maui.
But when the Illini (2-4) travel to Notre Dame (5-1) on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at 6 p.m. CST, they have a chance to snatch the rebound and push in transition for their first win over a high-major program this season.
“I feel like this is a great opportunity to make up for the games that we didn’t win in Maui," freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said. "... this is a great test to show our toughness and what we can do."
In order to do that, Illinois must control the glass, something head coach Brad Underwood has been preaching to his team all season.
Notre Dame feasts off offensive rebounds and second-chance points. According to KenPom statistics, the Irish pull in 36.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, which ranks 34th in the nation. They average 14.3 offensive rebounds and 40.8 total rebounds.
"You start getting that many misses back and giving yourself that many opportunities, that’s what I want to be," Underwood said. "I want to be that. We’ve got to keep them off the glass. That’s a big key to their success."
Therein lies the challenge for Illinois: grab the basketball. It's what Underwood wants to do, after all. But rebounding has been a bit of an issue — the Illini have been outrebounded by an average of four per game.
Aaron Jordan leads the team with a 5.2 rebounds per game average, followed by Giorgi Bezhanishvili's 4.5 and Dosunmu's 4.4.
“You gotta hit," Jordan said. "That’s something that (Notre Dame) takes pride in so we’ve also got to take pride in that. They’re physical, so we’ve got to match that. We have to grab as many rebounds as we can from everybody — not just our big guys; not just our guards. This has to be a team effort."
Dosunmu's nine rebounds on Sunday were tied with Da'Monte Williams for second most this season.
“It’s going to be important," Dosunmu said. "We have to help rebound. I’m 6-5. I’ve got to get in there and get five to seven a game. When I get the rebound, it makes it easier for me. Then I can just get it and push it. It just takes a step away. Me getting in there and rebounding is very important for us to get the win."
Underwood wants to see more from Bezhanishvili in the rebounding game, which starts with keeping him on the floor and out of foul trouble. Bezhanishvili makes the offense tick when he's on the floor and is a big body for the Illini with Adonis De La Rosa rounding into form and Samba Kane continuing to progress.
But Bezhanishvili averages 3.6 fouls, which leads the team. Underwood said he has to be better, but rebounds must be distributed.
"We’ve got to get everybody to rebound," Underwood said. "Ayo’s performance (on Sunday) was really good. We’ve been leaning heavy on Aaron Jordan and Da’Monte in that area. I still want Trent, and I still want (Andres Feliz) to help. As those big guys start banging on bodies, those guys have to come clean it up."
If Illinois wants rebounds, it has to contain 6-foot-9, 242-pound John Mooney, who averages 9.3 rebounds and 12.2 points.
Mooney and T.J. Gibbs are battle tested for the young Irish, who have standout young players in Prentiss Hubb (9.3 ppg) and D.J. Harvey — a forward who can shoot, which has become a staple of the Irish.
"They’re a young basketball team, but have a couple of guys in Gibbs and Mooney who have been through the battles and the wars," Underwood said. "I’ve enjoyed watching them on tape. It’s a very talented offensive team."
Tuesday also doubles as the first true road game for the Illini, who have only hit the road once — to Maui. It's the first time an Illini team that gets big minutes from freshmen will face a hostile fan base.
“We’ve got to get them excited," Jordan said. "Going into somebody else’s house, especially Notre Dame. We see it on TV all the time and have seen it in the past. Just really get them ready for, ‘Hey, it’s going to be energy, effort and when you make a mistake, forget it. Keep going. It’s going to get loud.’ We have to trust each other and stay together."