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TSJ dominant, Illinois upsets No. 8 UCLA in Vegas thriller

The Illini are legit.

NCAA Basketball: Continental Tire Main Event-Illinois at UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — TSJ. Sencire Harris. Dain Dainja.

Pick your poison, but the Illini have some weapons.

Aces weren’t the only wild things Friday night in Vegas, as No. 19 Illinois completed a massive second-half comeback in a 79-70 win over No. 8 UCLA at T-Mobile Arena in the Continental Tire Main Event.

Illinois (4-0) shook off a 16-0 Bruins run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, sparked by freshman Sencire Harris. The Illini scored 7 points in 30 seconds to cut into a 15-point deficit, and the rest is history: full-court press, forcing turnovers, and a monster night from Terrence Shannon Jr.

Shannon kept Illinois within striking distance in the first half, heading into the locker room with a double-double. But he truly came to life in the second half, hitting a trio of three-pointers and finishing the night with 29 points (8-of-9 from distance).

But Harris (4 points, countless hustle plays) and center Dain Dainja (13 points) were game-changers off the bench, filling the gap where members of the starting lineup weren’t very efficient (veterans RJ Melendez and Coleman Hawkins combined for 3 points and 6 turnovers in the first half).

It looked like we’d be telling a very different story during halftime, when Illinois had already recorded 13 turnovers and had 16 fewer shots than UCLA (3-1), who was looking the part of a team just one year removed from a Final Four appearance. And when the second half began, Illinois had back-to-back turnovers.

Yet Illinois turned on the jets in the final 15 minutes, with just about everyone contributing: a relentless effort leading to a 24-point swing, keeping Illinois undefeated.

Not much time to celebrate, however: No. 16 Virginia is waiting Sunday afternoon in the Main Event championship.


BAD FINISH: Illinois, up by 1 and looking to close out the half strong, fell apart in the final minutes of the opening period. UCLA finished the half on a 10-0 run, heading into the break up by 9.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED? If you blinked, you may have missed it. After Illinois put an end to the 16-0 run spanning both halves, the Illini forced three turnovers, scoring 7 points in about 20 seconds. A wild sequence sparked by Sencire Harris.


He’s DAINgerous.




FIRST-HALF DOUBLE-DOUBLE: The title says it all. Terrence Shannon Jr. had 10 points and 10 rebounds (all defensive) in the first half. In the second half, Shannon notched his 1,000th career point (obviously including his time at Texas Tech).

BIG TEN BATTLE: Don’t forget, this is a future Big Ten matchup! Soon!


The Continental Tire Main Event championship: 2 p.m. CT Sunday on ESPN in Vegas against No. 16 Virginia.

Important to note everything those Cavs have gone through this week, and our hearts are with them.