CHAMPAIGN, Ill — The Illini were in the zone on Tuesday night.
Brad Underwood secured win No. 100 in his Illini career and Coleman Hawkins had his first-career triple-double as Illinois topped Syracuse 73-44 at State Farm Center in their final Big Ten/ACC Challenge game ever.
“I think this program can elevate to levels we haven’t seen yet,” said head coach Brad Underwood on his Illini success. “I hope there’s 100 more and counting in the future.”
It was a slow and sloppy start for both teams on Tuesday night, but the Illini (6-1) showed why they are ranked No. 16 in the country — proving to be too much for the Orange.
If there’s one thing you know about taking on head coach Jim Boeheim and Syracuse (3-4), it’s that you are going to see a heavy dose of the 2-3 zone, as that is what Boeheim is known for.
Jayden Epps got things going from long range with a pair of threes, and the next four threes came off the left arm of reigning Big Ten player of the week Terrence Shannon Jr. The Illini struggled to penetrate the zone, so they settled to attempt a whopping 39 threes, a program record — shooting only 28.2% from three.
“How do you win games when the ball doesn’t go in,” Underwood said postgame. “It wasn’t very pretty, we’re a better team than that.
“Yet, I felt great about our offense.”
But the Illini flipped the game via defense, holding Syracuse to under 30% from the field and poured in seven steals and six blocks, while also out-rebounding the Orange.
“Illinois is a tremendous defensive team,” said future Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, “We couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
In wins, the Illini are averaging 89.4 points-per-game this season — and their only loss came when they put up just 61 points against Virginia in the championship of the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas last week.
Illinois thrives when they push the pace, and what Virginia did well against Brad Underwood’s squad is slow Illinois down, something Boeheim’s 2-3 zone does by design.
“We’ll have to execute against [the 2-3 zone],” Underwood said Monday before the Syracuse game. “Make some shots and move the ball and do all the things you have to do against a zone to beat it.”
Illinois struggled to do that out the gates, opening the game shooting just 4-of-16 from the field. However, in the back half of the first period, Illinois made five straight shots to open up scoring.
In the second half Illinois sped things up, and it was junior Coleman Hawkins who helped the Illini beat the Syracuse zone. The 6-foot-10 forward had 15 points, and poured in 10 rebounds and dished 10 assists as the offense was forced to run through him. The big man secured his first triple-double, the Illini’s first since Ayo Dosunmu in 2021 and fifth all-time.
“Coleman (Hawkins) is such a good facilitator, he’s got such high IQ and he can make that little floater,” Underwood said. “He’s very very good in there, so efficient, very patient.”
15— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 30, 2022
Coleman Hawkins (@colehawk23) just recorded the 5th triple-double in @IlliniMBB history. pic.twitter.com/8dGpzJXAnM
Hawkins sat one rebound away as the game turned into a blowout late. With 1:34 to go in the second half, right after he notched his 10th assist, Hawkins snatched his 10th rebound on a miss from Benny Williams to the delight of 15 thousand at State Farm Center. Underwood then called a timeout to take Hawkins out of the game, with a loud ovation from the crowd. Hawkins met them with an emphatic fist bump and a scream toward the Illini bench that was flooding the court to greet history.
“It was a great moment,” Hawkins said.
A pair of 11-0+ runs in the second half helped Illinois open up a near 30-point lead, and despite scoring their second-lowest output all season, Illinois cruised to its sixth win of the year.
Terrence Shannon Jr. (ILL): 17 PTS, 5-14 3FG
Coleman Hawkins (ILL): 15 PTS, 10 REB, 10 AST
Jesse Edwards (CUSE): 9 PTS, 17 REB
Judah Mintz (CUSE): 9 PTS, 5 AST
- This is the first time the Illini have faced off against Syracuse in 27 years, the Illini led the all-time series entering Tuesday’s game 2-1.
- This is the final edition of the Big Ten/ ACC Challenge, which began in 1999. The Illini fininsh 11-13 (or 10-14) in the challenge all-time, with a three game winning streak to finish strong.
- The Illini’s top three point shooters in each of the last five seasons have been left-handed shooters, in a sport dominated primarily by right handers. Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer come to mind when you think of left handed sharp shooters, and the newest to that list appears to be Terrence Shannon Jr., who leads the Illini with 16 threes made early on. Plus, Shannon Jr. is one of just four players nationwide to be averaging 20+ points, six+ rebounds and three+ assists per game this season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Not a lot of threes made in this game.
TSJ had two of them in 25 seconds.
Terrence Shannon Jr. is heating up.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 30, 2022
The star G just hit back-to-back 3s to give Illinois the lead.@Sn1per_T x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/oiHYJeKenb
TWEET OF THE GAME
Our game has changed quite a bit hasn’t it.
When the #Illini beat Syracuse in '89, they attempted 4 all game. https://t.co/sWS89DtRPL— Scott Beatty (@scott_beatty) November 30, 2022
how'd this end up being a blowout lol?— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) November 30, 2022
HE SAID IT
“I told him he might need to get his mullet back,” - Brad Underwood on how to break Matthew Mayer out of his early season shooting slump.
The Illini open up Big Ten play on Friday with a visit to College Park to take on No. 22 Maryland.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on BTN.