CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This game meant a lot more than just basketball, but No. 25 was the better ranked team.
In what was a massive step up from NAIA opponent Ottawa, Illinois would get to see how it fairs against the nation’s best in Kansas, and did not disappoint.
The Illini would get the better of the Jayhawks in Sunday’s Maui Strong exhibition at State Farm Center, and was as highly competitive as anticipated. It would come down to the wire and had all the feels of a contest in mid-March.
But thanks to Terrence Shannon Jr.’s 28 points — and many other contributors, both old and new — the home team would take the upset victory 82-75.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The first half was the Shannon and Kevin McCullar Jr. show, as both teams’ star players led the way. Both former Texas Tech teammates attempted to one up each other, with McCullar leading all scorers at 18 points and Shannon right behind with 16 into the break.
Shannon was more aggressive in the first 20 minutes from behind the arc, finishing the half 4-for-6. Compare this to McCullar who drilled his only attempt.
Coleman Hawkins also got it done from three-point range, finishing 3-of-4 at the break.
“Guys turned down really good shots to get great shots,” Underwood said. “And if that leads to a three, that leads to a three.”
His versatility gave Kansas problems, and head coach Bill Self described Hawkins as the player “we couldn’t match up with.”
In part to the impressive three-point shooting, the Illini would hold a 6-point halftime lead. A question for the second half was how would the team play with a lead.
The answer? Illinois did not trail the rest of the way.
“We’re all on the same page here offensively,” Hawkins said. “It’s been successful so far and it’s only going to get better too.”
But things got chippy in the second half, specifically when Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson — who has always received heat from Illinois faithful — committed a hard foul on Dain Dainja that could’ve been called a flagrant.
McCullar fouled Shannon hard as well later on, and when TSJ hit the deck, pushing and shoving from both sides led to technical fouls dealt to Illinois’ Ty Rodgers and Kansas’ Nicolas Timberlake.
With the game becoming even more competitive, Kansas tied things up at 68 with just over five minutes remaining, and this lit a fire under the Illini.
Outscoring Kansas 14-7 the rest of the way solidified a statement win for Illinois.
Despite being dominated in the paint (outscored 50 to 22), Illinois made up for it from behind the arc, scoring 33 points from three as opposed to only 9 for Kansas.
Joining Shannon — who would finish with five threes — in double figures would be Hawkins and transfer forwards Marcus Damask and Quincy Guerrier, who all combined for 38 points. The veteran leadership down the stretch was a big key.
“At the end of the game, we had a lot of age out there, a lot of experience,” Underwood said.
Besides the win, this team showed some very impressive signs Sunday, and has potential to be a threat in the Big Ten and beyond. Bill Self sees it too.
“Brad’s going to have a really good team,” Self said. “I like the pieces and they have enough depth. There’s a lot of positive things about Brad’s team.”
Underwood agrees with the praise.
“Everybody who played did some positive things,” Underwood said. “There’s not anybody in our program who’s lost.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This was cool.
This next one is self-explanatory.
This step back three from Hawkins was real pretty (and it was over Dickinson).
“Beating Hunter again, he played in this league for a long time,” Hawkins said.
- Illinois came out firing from behind the arc in the first half, taking 16 three pointers compared to just three attempts from Kansas.
- The free throw woes continued for the orange and blue, shooting just 21-of-32 (65.6%) from the charity stripe.
- The Illini were able to win the board battle, edging out Kansas in the rebound department 39 to 32.
Illinois said it raised more than $1 million for the Maui Strong fund as part of Sunday’s game. Amazing. Both Bill Self and Brad Underwood hope that these type of charity games will be options moving forward in the future.
“With as many things that are going in our world right now, and tragedies all around us, I hope that this is something that is available to schools,” Self said.
“Heck of a day when you raise over a million dollars for a lot of people who need it,” Underwood said. “The real winners are not here. They’re in Maui and Lahaina.”
TWEET OF THE GAME
Well said, Thump.
Hunter Dickinson from 8 feet out today pic.twitter.com/9CQNsW0HEO— STEVE BRAUN SON OF KEN (@thumpasaurus1) October 29, 2023
Illinois will officially start its season a week from Monday against Eastern Illinois.
Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 and you can stream it on BTN+.