CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As he stepped onto the State Farm Court for the first time as Illinois' coach, Brad Underwood smiled broadly and pointed to fans in the Orange Krush student section.
He scanned the arena before tipoff as if he was a tourist arriving at a bucket-list destination. Underwood, who was hired in March from Oklahoma State, said this week that he is always a bundle of nerves before games.
To soak it in, as well as show support, he arrived at the arena especially early Friday to attend the Illini women's game which preceded the men's.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "I love the smell of an arena, the atmosphere of an arena. Just to soak that in for a minute. I have so much love for students and the support they bring. I'll be honest. I was nervous. I was emotional, I guess, from the standpoint I'm living out my dream. When 14,000 show up tonight, it's pretty special. All in all it was a good night."
His debut was a success as Illinois decimated Southern, 102-55, Friday night. The Illini's final point tally was their most in a season opener since scoring 103 in 1990 under coach Lou Henson.
Fans roared as Underwood exited the court, and he pointed toward them thankfully.
A promising start, indeed.
"Tonight's Step 1 of getting our swagger back," Underwood said.
Guard Mark Alstork, a transfer from Wright State, produced a double-double with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds in his first game for the Illini. He shot 4 of 8 from the floor and hit 9 of 10 free-throw attempts, leading the way for the Illini, who were 34 of 37 from the line.
Illinois' ability to attack the basket was on display with 36 points in the paint.