MINNEAPOLIS — Highlighted by exciting wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, Illinois went into Monday night with a three-game winning streak. Looking to keep the streak alive, the Illini did just that, and in dominant fashion.
After a competitive first half, Illinois used a Matthew Mayer-led attack and stellar defense en route to a 78-60 win against Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Coming into the game as 9.5-point favorites, the Illini (13-5, 4-3 Big Ten) were unable to separate themselves early on from the Gophers. Mayer’s 10 points led all scorers at the half, but Illinois barely clung to a 35-32 lead.
Minnesota (7-9, 1-5 Big Ten) took an early second-half lead, but from then on, the game was all Illinois. A 12-0 run propelled the Illini to a 47-36 lead, and as they clamped down defensively and forced tough shots, the Gophers couldn’t respond. They shot a horrid 27.6% from the field in the second half.
The last 20 minutes featured an Illinois team that looked reminiscent of the past three games, with great ball movement and an increased intensity from every player keeping the lead in the double digits for the majority of the second half.
Illinois’ leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 66 points in the first three games of the streak, but he ended the game with only 11 points on an uncharacteristic 2-12 shooting. Additionally, Coleman Hawkins (three points) was a non-factor on offense, but their teammates picked up the slack.
Aggressive play from Mayer (19 points), Dain Dainja (11 points) and Jayden Epps (10 points) gave the team a whopping 54 points in the paint.
The bully ball showcased by the Illini was also reflected in the rebounding numbers. After getting out-rebounded by 10 against Michigan State, Brad Underwood’s team responded accordingly by dominating the Gophers on the boards, 50-29.
“They’re arguably the most talented team in the league,” said Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson.
Despite the loss, Minnesota got another impressive outing from leading scorer Dawson Garcia. After a 28-point outburst in the upset win at Ohio State, Garcia added a team-high 17 points while grabbing 6 boards. Guard Ta’Lon Cooper complimented Garcia’s performance with 16 points on an efficient 7-11 shooting.
The intensity showcased in Minneapolis proved that the Illini aren’t satisfied, but they’ll need it to continue if they want to get to the top of the Big Ten.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
UNBE-LIEB-ABLE!!: After Dain Dainja and Coleman Hawkins both committed two early fouls, Brandon Lieb subbed into the game. Not having played in a first half in any Big Ten game this season, Lieb made the most of his nine minutes, recording 4 points, 2 rebounds and a block.
DAINJA ZONE: After Minnesota took a 36-35 lead early in the second half, Dain Dainja put back a Sencire Harris missed shot to put a halt to the momentum. This put-back was the start of the 12-0 run that put the game out of reach.
FRESHMEN TRIO: Illinois got big impacts from its freshman, as Epps, Sencire Harris and Ty Rodgers combined for 25 points on the night. Rodgers and Harris were a big part of the rebounding margin, as both grabbed 8 boards.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
LIEBron James with the rejection!
Offense ➡️ Defense— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 16, 2023
Terrence Shannon Jr. with the finish for @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/3LywTE26sT
Still don’t know how Sencire Harris got this shot to go in.
Harris takes it himself for @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/kKYpXJYULk— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 17, 2023
No time like the present.
#illini Brandon Lieb ties a career high with four points in the first half.— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) January 16, 2023
Dainja’s efficiency is through the roofs.
Dain Dainja’s 10.4 points per game is the most in the nation among major conference players who play fewer than 20 minutes a game. #SoundSmart— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 17, 2023
This trend bodes well...
#Illini overall record the last four seasons after 18 games...— Craig Choate (@craigwchoate) January 17, 2023
TWEET OF THE GAME
LIEBRON JAMES!!!— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 16, 2023
The Illini return home for a Thursday night matchup against rival Indiana.
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on FS1.