CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After last Saturday’s home loss to Penn State, Brad Underwood called out the lack of effort and leadership shown from his players. The following Saturday at State Farm Center, it’s not clear if they answered the bell.
Despite the continued theme of horrible shooting and sloppy play, Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr. helped Illinois fight off Alabama A&M in a 68-47 win.
The Illini (8-3, 0-2 Big Ten) came into Saturday expecting to have an easy opportunity to bounce back with a win. After the first half, it looked to be just that. Aided by 12 first-half points from Terrence Shannon Jr., the Illini took a 36-19 lead at the break.
Not shooting particularly well in that first half, Illinois went into the second half looking to sharpen things up. Instead, the unexpected happened. Led by guard Messiah Johnson’s sudden emergence, an underdog Alabama A&M (3-7) squad went on a shocking 16-0 run to cut the lead to 38-37.
The entirety of State Farm Center sat there perplexed. How did this team — one that beat No. 2 Texas only 11 days ago — find itself in this situation?
A miserable 4-of-20 from beyond the arc and 15 turnovers made this score possible, leaving Illinois with just under 11 minutes to fix its mistakes and avoid another home disaster.
The majority of the game was anything but pretty, but when the Illini were in need of a momentum changer, Matthew Mayer showed up.
Illinois responded to the 16-0 run with a 21-6 run of its own, and it had Mayer written all over it. The fifth-year senior did just about everything during the run, recording 8 points, a pair of blocks and steals, and added an assist and two rebounds.
With the lead pushed to 59-43, the Illini never let the lead get back below double digits.
Mayer finished with a game-high 21 points, and Shannon Jr. added 18 points. No other Illini finished in double digits.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
EARLY THREES: Two early threes by Mayer and another by Skyy Clark gave the Illini an early 19-7 lead. From there, they would keep a double-digit lead for the majority of the half.
RJ INJURY: Before the game, it was reported that RJ Melendez was nursing a right shoulder injury. As a result, Jayden Epps started in his place. Although Melendez played 13 minutes off the bench, his shot was clearly affected by the injury throughout the game. He failed to score, missing all three of his shots.
FOUL TROUBLE: Mayer and Clark were contributors early on, but two early fouls by each limited their playing time. While Mayer avoided falling into deeper foul trouble, Clark’s two early second-half fouls prevented him from having much of an effect in the rest of the game. He ended up fouling out for the first time in his career.
BIG MAN STRUGGLES: Neither Coleman Hawkins nor Dain Dainja were major factors in the game, as they combined for only 13 points. Dainja only saw 12 minutes of playing time.
LID OFF THE BASKET: After going 8:05 without scoring a single point, Coleman Hawkins made two free throws to take a 40-37 lead and end a 16-0 Bulldog run. These points were followed by sarcastic cheers from the crowd, and from there, the Illini went on a 13-2 run of their own. From then on, Alabama A&M failed to get the deficit back to single digits.
The type of defense Illinois needs the rest of the season.
19 points allowed in the first half marks a season-low in any half for the Illini defense this season, and the fewest since also giving up 19 first-half points in a 59-56 win at Northwestern on Jan. 29, 2022. https://t.co/9oPJEU6xno— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) December 17, 2022
Leaders need to take care of the ball.
Coleman Hawkins’ 5 turnovers today marks his fourth game this season of committing 5+ turnovers.— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) December 17, 2022
A sign of things to come?
Matthew Mayer's 21 points matches his season high as an Illini and is one shy of his collegiate career high.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) December 17, 2022
TWEET OF THE GAME
Alabama A&M's wins this season:— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) December 17, 2022
- Lipscomb (may be Michigan!)
- Rust College
This is atrocious.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Brad really wanted Coleman to shoot.
Illinois and Missouri face off in St. Louis on Thursday night.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on SEC Network.