CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois let out its frustration in dominant fashion in the final game of the calendar year.
In their first contest as an unranked team this season, the Illini needed to make a statement Thursday night. They did just that, winning with authority over Bethune-Cookman 85-52 at State Farm Center.
With Skyy Clark out nursing a shoulder injury, Sencire Harris was thrust into a starting spot. The freshman guard looked like a seasoned vet playing strong at both ends of the court.
But it was Dain Dainja who led the way in scoring with 22 points, while Coleman Hawkins had a team high in rebounds with 11 and four assists. Five Illini players finished with double figures in scoring.
As 30.5 point favorites, Illinois looked the part Thursday night. Allowing the fewest points in a first half all season for the Illini, the team almost covered the spread by the halfway mark, taking a 47-19 lead into the second period.
Dropping three of their last fives games, the Illini finally found some much-needed consistency as they dominated their last non-conference matchup of the schedule from the opening tip. They’re going to need this strong play to carry over into Big Ten conference play if they want a chance to repeat as regular season champions.
From here on out, its strictly business for Illinois. They’ll be looking to build off this convincing win as they search for their first conference victory.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
SENCIRELY YOURS: In his first start at the college level, Sencire Harris made his case for more minutes finishing with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
STRONG START: The Illini came out swinging, starting the game on a 10-0 run while not allowing a BCU bucket for the first five minutes.
FREE THROW WOES: Ranking in the bottom three in free throw percentage in the Big Ten, Illinois continued to struggle from the line shooting a disappointing 70.4%.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Welcome to the Dainja Zone.
IT'S DAINJA TIME. @DDainja x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/XHDUV0UgWW— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) December 30, 2022
Coleman Hawkins gets it done on both ends.
The block ➡️ the SLAM. @colehawk23 x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/5nKggQqluI— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) December 30, 2022
- Every Illini player had a positive or even +/-, while Bethune-Cookman’s highest player +/- was a -2. Dain Dainja had a team high +/- of 32.
- Dainja also finished with a season high 22 points on 8-10 shooting, his highest scoring night since his 20 points against Kansas City on Nov. 11. He also had a career high four steals.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Looking snazzy, @CoachUnderwood. pic.twitter.com/vCNRhdwOhr— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) December 30, 2022
Illinois will visit Northwestern at Welsh Ryan Arena to kick off the new year Wednesday night.
Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m.