CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois is finally in the Big Ten win column.
One day following the announcement of Skyy Clark’s indefinite departure and coming off a rough 13-point loss to in-state rival Northwestern Wednesday night, the Illini were looking for some life to revive themselves. Safe to say they found just that on Saturday afternoon at State Farm Center.
Welcoming in a ranked Wisconsin team missing its leading scorer and arguably best player (Tyler Wahl) was just what the doctor ordered to try and get this team their confidence back.
“To say it was needed and felt good is probably the understatement of the day,” said head coach Brad Underwood.
Led behind Coleman Hawkins, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Jayden Epps combining for 59 points, Illinois (10-5, 1-3 Big Ten) took down No. 14 Wisconsin, 79-69.
“We were 0-3, we dug ourselves in a hole, and I felt like this game was a must win for us,” Shannon said. “We practiced hard and stayed together and got the win.”
Hawkins had his best game scoring since opening night against Eastern Illinois, finishing with 20 points and drilling six shots from beyond the arc on nine attempts (66.7%) against the Badgers.
“If we set good screens and got downhill in our actions, I knew that I’d be available to pop,” Hawkins said. “I’ve just kind of been in the gym working on catch-and-shoot threes, so I felt more comfortable shooting it.”
Shannon followed right in suit with Hawkins, scoring 24 points of his own — the fifth time he's scored over 20 this season.
“My teammates, they like me being aggressive,” Shannon said. “I didn't force anything, I made the right plays, sometimes I missed some guys, but I was just aggressive.”
The Badgers (11-3, 3-1 Big Ten) are a team that loves to win in low-scoring fashion by wearing down their opponents. At first it looked like it could be a low-scoring game until the Illini turned it on towards the end of the first half. From there the Illini got up to as big as a 15-point second half lead and never looked back.
In the second half, the Illini looked like the team that took down UCLA and Texas. They played with lots of confidence, took high-percentage shots, got to the free throw line, and did not turn the ball over much. In other words, the exact recipe on how to beat the Badgers.
“Today, offensively, we trusted, and we believed,” Underwood said. “The ball had some, what we call having energy. It moved, then you combine that with our effort and it allowed for us to score  points against one of the best defensive teams not only in the Big ten, but in the country.”
Overall, this win means a lot to this team who had looked lost in their last few losses. They’ll want to keep this stuff up as Big Ten play only continues to heat up.
“Any time you get a win, especially in the Big Ten, it’s super important,” Hawkins said. “It means a lot to get a win because winning’s hard in this league.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
HALFTIME LEAD: In their last four losses, the Illini trailed at half. They were up 30-27 on Saturday and we’re playing better than they had been recently overall, shooting 42% from the field and most noteworthy 44% from 3-point.
SECOND HALF 3’S: The Illini were making it rain in the second half from behind the arc, shooting 60% from three-point range. A drastic improvement from late.
20-PIECES: Like we mention above, Coleman Hawkins (20) and Terrence Shannon Jr. (24) had themselves an afternoon on Saturday. The two 20+ point performances were the first time the two have done so in the same game since the season opener.
“I thought Terrence was outstanding on the offensive side,” Underwood said. “He got going early.”
Underwood added: “I’m so proud of Coleman. I say it all the time, he's an elite, elite shooter.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
TSJ shows off some acrobatics.
How'd Terrence Shannon Jr. make this one? @Sn1per_T x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/hDDNojYDC0— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 7, 2023
He also did this.
Terrence Shannon Jr. saw this one coming. @Sn1per_T x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/42w9MwTisU— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 7, 2023
#Illini took over 27 minutes against Northwestern to shoot a free throw on Wednesday.— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 7, 2023
It only took them 38 seconds to attempt one today. #SoundSmart
TWEET OF THE GAME
SEASON OUTLOOK:— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 7, 2023
we ain’t dead yet!
cc @thumpasaurus1 pic.twitter.com/WeILvhk1j7
The Illini continue Big Ten play on Tuesday night at Nebraska.
Tip off against the Huskers is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT on BTN.