CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — That’s how you defend your home court.
After an embarrassing home loss to Indiana last time out, the Illini rebounded nicely on Tuesday. Illinois was efficient on both ends of the floor, and took care of Ohio State, 69-60, at State Farm Center.
The last time Illinois played, they were dismantled and ran off their own floor against the Hoosiers. Head Coach Brad Underwood made mention of the fact that the Illini had played or practiced 19 consecutive days leading up to their disappointing showing against IU. This time — once again at home — with four days of “much needed” rest, Illinois had no excuse.
“I was very pleased defensively,” Underwood said. “Tonight was a very good team effort.”
Illinois (14-6, 5-4 Big Ten) was sloppy out of the gates, turning the ball over four times in the first five minutes. But the Illini were able to buckle down, turning it over just once the rest of the first frame.
The orange and blue turned to their leading scorer to set the tone, and Terrence Shannon Jr. turned in a very efficient performance, leading the way for the Illini with 17 points, but it was a complete effort all around. The Illini grabbed a 10-9 lead with 12:34 to go in the first half and they never looked back, leading the rest of the way. The Illini had four players in double figures, and eight players who found the score sheet.
“We find a different gear when we run,” Underwood said. “We kind of broke it open and it was our transition [offense] that did that.”
The second half was all Illinois. After carrying a 34-26 lead into the break, the Illini used a 14-5 run to bust open a 17-point advantage. Freshman Jayden Epps nailed a three-pointer to punctuate a 10-0 run for Illinois and ignite the sold-out State Farm Center crowd.
Epps got his second career college start and performed admirably. The freshman notched 14 points.
“He was great,” Underwood said. “It was just kind of a gut feeling (to start Epps).”
Plus, Coleman Hawkins was all over the court on both ends — sniffing his second career triple-double.
“Coleman [Hawkins] was terrific,” Underwood said. “I thought [he] really controlled the game on both ends of the court.”
After battling the flu last week and playing below his average minutes in the Indiana loss, the Illini were pleased to get a healthy Matthew Mayer back on the court. The grad transfer from Baylor scored 12 points, poured in eight rebounds and added two blocks on the defensive end.
“We locked in to scouting report,” Hawkins said. “I think it went pretty well holding them to whatever they shot on offense.”
For Illinois, the win is not attributed as much to offense as it is to the way it performed on the defensive end. After allowing Indiana to shoot an absurd 61.8% from the field, the Illini held Ohio State (11-9, 3-6 Big Ten) to below 40% from the field for most of the game. Whether it be luck, rest, stellar defense or a mixture of the three — it all led to a mark in the correct column: W.
- Terrance Shannon Jr. (ILL): 17 PTS, 9-of-9 FT, 7 REB
- Jayden Epps (ILL): 14 PTS
- Matthew Mayer (ILL): 12 PTS, 8 REB
- Coleman Hawkins (ILL): 11 PTS, 6 AST, 9 REB
- Justice Sueing (OSU): 13 PTS
- Brice Sensabaugh (OSU): 14 PTS
- FREE? THROWS: Last time out, the Illini lost to Indiana by 15 in a game where they missed 14 free throws (9-of-23). On Tuesday, it was a much different story. The Illini made their ninth free throw of the game with over five minutes to go in the first half, and opened the game 7-of-8 and 9-of-11 from the line. Illinois finished 16-18, 89%.
- CHARITY WORKER: In 19 games this season, Terrance Shannon Jr. is averaging just over 18 points per game. In fact, the Texas Tech transfer is the only player in the country to be averaging at least 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal per game. Shannon Jr. does more damage than anybody in the Big Ten at the free throw line. His 98 free throws lead the conference, and he averages over six free throw attempts per game. The Chicago native had another nine trips to the line, and scored nine of his 17 from the charity stripe.
- DOUBLE FIGURES: Both Jayden Epps and Matthew Mayer have been hot as of late for Illinois. Mayer reached double figures for the 10th time in his last 12 contests, while Epps notched 10+ points for the seventh time in the last nine games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This was almost as loud as when Illini fans earned McNuggets.
It got loud in Champaign after this one. pic.twitter.com/BFPcZgXc9O— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 25, 2023
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
It was Krush Cancer night at SFC.
It’s been terrific to watch @CoachesvsCancer grow year after year. I’m proud to #SuitUp for tomorrow’s Krush Cancer game. #SuitsAndSneakers pic.twitter.com/aqNC8tWneY— Brad Underwood (@CoachUnderwood) January 24, 2023
TWEET OF THE GAME
Petition to bring Dick Vitale to SFC, put Lieb in, and have him say “UNBELIEBABLE” on the broadcast.— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 25, 2023
HE SAID IT
“Two days rest,” Underwood said in response to being asked what the key was to the Illini’s better defense tonight as opposed to last Thursday against Indiana.
Illinois will head to Madison and look to keep up its winning ways for a matchup with Wisconsin on Saturday.
The game will be televised on FOX and tip off is set for 2 p.m. CT.