Sunday night didn’t go as planned for the Illinois basketball team. With their NCAA Tournament hopes dashed, the Illini learned they would instead have to shift their attention to the NIT and prepare for a trip to Stony Brook, N.Y., to battle Stony Brook University on Wednesday.
For junior guard Bill Cole, being left out of the NCAA Tournament was a major blow.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve been through in a long time,” Cole said Sunday. “Just the disappointment is huge, to have to sit there and watch teams we probably thought we were better than a lot of them, just to see them get picked and us slide through, that was tough just to sit there with your teammates and take that.”
“And have to get geared up right away to go travel to New York to play another team, it’s a difficult day,” Cole added. For an Illinois basketball program that has grown accustomed to NCAA Tournament appearances and isn’t far removed from its own run to the national championship, getting geared up to play in the NIT isn’t going to be easy.
“It is what it is. And I challenged them (Saturday) night to come with the same vigor and energy no matter if we’re in NCAA or NIT,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We’ll see. This will be a test of our maturity, there’s no doubt.”
Much of the burden for getting the squad motivated for Wednesday’s contest will fall on co-captains Cole and junior guard Demetri McCamey, who doesn’t want the squad to waste time thinking about what might have been.
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