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Jayden Epps is an Illini legend in the making

The young freshman has boundless potential.

NCAA Basketball: Jimmy V Classic-Illinois at Texas Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There were plenty of positive takeaways from Tuesday night’s massive win over the No. 2 Texas Longhorns, including Matthew Mayer’s breakout performance, Terrence Shannon Jr.’s overtime awakening, and the overall impressive play by each of the Illini freshmen.

Not to take anything away from Mayer, Shannon, or any other Illini, but what I found most intriguing was the incredible performance by freshman Jayden Epps.

Off the bat, his stat line alone — 11 pts, 3 boards, 3 assists, and 1 block (of Texas’ potential game winning shot) on 31 minutes — will turn plenty of heads on the box score. He played the third-most minutes on the team, and scored the third-most points.

Still, plenty of freshmen around the country can score 11 points against even a highly-ranked opponent, but what stands out to me most here is the amount of time he saw on the court. How many freshmen can put up those numbers while playing aggressive defense for 31 minutes against arguably the best team in the country?

Brad Underwood has consistently pulled players off the court if they become a defensive liability, and has kept defensive-minded players in the game even if their offensive potential is limited (i.e. Da’Monte Williams). So Epps playing over a half hour of basketball on Tuesday night shows me that Underwood trusts him immensely on the defensive end. That’s not something easily earned, but Jayden Epps has managed to do it only nine games into his freshman season.

Now, numbers aside, let’s take a look at how Jayden Epps put up those statistics. Starting with the end of regulation.

Imagine yourself in his shoes, as a teenager playing basketball on national television in Madison Square Garden, needing to make two free throws against the No. 2 team in the country to send the game to overtime. His confidence and coolness under pressure makes him a truly unique player and simply adds to his potential.

But those free throws would’ve been meaningless if he first didn’t put himself in just the right position to hit this three-pointer down five with less than a minute to go in regulation.

This shot is eerily reminiscent of Ayo Dosunmu’s otherworldly ability to hit buzzer beating daggers. And just like how Ayo did this time and again as an Illini, I don’t expect this is the last time we’ll owe a victory to Epps’ heroics.

Earlier on in the game, Epps fit seamlessly into the flow of the game in all phases. One of the main issues that freshmen often struggle with is communication, not only on defense, but on offense too. Needless to say, Epps seems to be already very in-tune with his teammates on the offensive side of the ball.

This overtime shot also speaks volumes about Epps’ potential. Marcus Carr is a veteran who has been a fixture in the Big Ten for years, and the Illini will face many other guards like him in conference play. Yet, Jayden Epps goes toe-to-toe with him and finds a way to score.

All in all, Epps has astounding potential just a few games into his college career. And although this team is loaded with freshmen talent, Epps is the one who I’m keeping my eye on closest the rest of the year.