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CHAMPAIGN — When the Illinois schedule picked up, it brought a full head of steam with it.

The Illini got their first men's basketball test of the season in Tuesday's 88-80 home loss to Georgetown, and things don't get easier from here for the foreseeable future.

Illinois will board a plane and fly to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, where it will see No. 3-ranked Gonzaga at 10:30 p.m. Monday. Win or lose, the Illini would play either Arizona or Iowa State on Tuesday. The rest of the field is made up of No.1 Duke, No. 9 Auburn, Xavier and San Diego State.

Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 25 will be a break before traveling to Notre Dame.

Translation: It's tough sledding from here. But Illinois head coach Brad Underwood embraces it.

"It’s the elite event in all of the preseason basketball tournaments," he said of the Maui Invitational. "You think I’m afraid to go challenge anybody with this group? The way this group is going to develop and continue to grow? I’m excited. Every night the rest of the way for us is like this. Real dudes, man. Guys who are really good players and guys who are well-coached to make plays. We just have to keep growing."

Said freshman Ayo Dosunmu: “After today we’re going to watch film (Wednesday morning), get better and put this game behind us. We’ve got a great Gonzaga team next week. We can’t dwell. We can’t get too high or too low. We have to stay level headed. We have to come out and fight a little harder. I think that today was a great showing for us. Everyone tried their best and everyone gave their all. At the end of the day, some nights just don’t go your way, but we fought hard."

Career-high for Da'Monte

If sophomore Da'Monte Williams is somewhere on the floor, it's usually not a mistake. Underwood has praised Williams' basketball IQ.

On Tuesday, he had a career-high 11 points, including making a 3-pointer in the first half during a 9-0 Illini run. For good measure, he added four steals, a block with under two minutes left that gave the Illini a chance to tie the game and a pair of rebounds.

“Da’Monte always makes a lot of plays," Underwood said. "He’s a guy who, as many plays as he makes, I’m still ticked off at because he got beat off the dribble twice and he never gets beat off the dribble. Da’Monte is a guy who has pride. He made a big block; he gets the steal. He continues doing the right things."

Locker room shift

When Underwood walked into the locker room after the game, he didn't find his team sulking. He found a team that was rather angry after letting a winnable game slip through their fingers.

“There weren’t guys hanging their heads," Underwood said. "This is a group of guys who were pissed off and they were frustrated with themselves. We have 7 a.m. film (Wednesday) and they’ll all be in there and ready to tackle and look at the mistakes and grow."

When asked if that had been the mood in the locker room last season, Underwood took a lengthy pause before answering.

“It’s refreshing," he said. "Let’s just put it that way. We’re heading in the right direction. It’s refreshing to walk in and see that and feel that. I do that everyday. I love this team, I love where this team is going and what they’re standing for. … It’s unique."

Debuts, debuts, debuts 

Grad transfer big man Adonis De La Rosa made his Illinois debut last night, going scoreless on two shot attempts with two fouls and a turnover.

He tore his ACL last season at Kent State and returned to play six minutes.

Underwood said De La Rosa looked like a player who needed to get back in shape after being limited in practices.

"Adonis is going to help us a bunch," Underwood said. "We can play Giorgi (Bezhanishvili) at the four and go bigger when we need to. He takes up so much space. He’s a threat offensively. He was amped up and nervous and all that stuff. He’s a guy just with sheer size imposes his way with people. He’ll get there. He’ll be a big help for us."

Freshman Alan Griffin made his Illinois debut with a three pointer and two offensive rebounds in 10 minutes.

Praise for Ayo

Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing knows a thing or two about Dosunmu. Ewing recruited the Chicago Morgan Park product before Dosunmu decided to stay home and play for the Illini.

But what Ewing didn't expect was the three 3-pointers Dosunmu knocked down on Tuesday.

"I know how good of a player that he is," Ewing said. "He made some big threes for them. Usually he’s not that good of a shooter and more of a slasher getting to the basket. He stepped up. He made some great threes and made great plays. You have to give a compliment where a compliment is due. He’s a very good player and he’s going to continue to get better."

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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