CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The 2023-24 season is now in full swing.
Illinois looked to keep its record perfect as it hosted Oakland for the second regular season game of the year on Friday night at State Farm Center.
Once again, the first half seemed to expose a few of Illinois’ weak spots with this year’s squad. Luckily, the Illini were able to figure things out late in the second half and secure the victory.
While it wasn’t pretty, Illinois got the job done as it was able to hold off Oakland 64-53 in an ugly win.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Much like Monday against EIU, the Illini started off sluggish. The orange and blue shot 6-of-14 from the field in the first 10 minutes and 0-of-4 from three point land.
The sole bright spot for Illinois up to this point was Dain Dainja, who started 3-of-3 from the field.
“I’m just doing what I can so we can get the dub,” Dainja said. “Everyday I try to come in with energy.”
Illinois wouldn’t take their first lead of the game until just under eight minutes left in the first when the score was 15-16.
Dainja had a team high 8 points at the half while only six Illinois players were able to get on the board. Oakland’s Trey Townsend led all scorers at the break with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
The second half didn’t start out much better. Illinois had just 6 made shots at the halfway mark in the second while trading the lead back and forth.
However, after taking a 51-48 lead with just over seven minutes left, the Illini would hold their lead for the rest of the way.
“Today, we were not shooting the ball well,” said forward Quincy Guerrier. “The free throw percentage was terrible, so we had to find a way to win the game without making shots.”
After this point, Oakland would only knock down two more buckets for the rest of the game, both of which came in the final minute of the contest.
The Illinois defense flexed their muscles down the stretch, as they held Oakland scoreless for nearly seven minutes in route to a 16-0 second half run.
“In the second half, we got 11 stops straight,” said Terrence Shannon Jr. “Just sticking to our principles and being solid and staying true to what we do.”
Shannon struggled on the offensive side tonight for his standards, shooting just 5-of-12 from the floor, 2-of-6 from behind the arc and 3-of-5 from the line.
Despite this, Shannon still finished with a team high 15 points. He also made a statement with his dominance on the defensive side.
Head coach Brad Underwood had high praise for the fifth year guard for his effort on defense.
“Maybe one of the best defensive performances by a perimeter player I’ve seen was Terrence Shannon tonight,” Underwood said. “It takes a lot of mental focus to handle that because he’s away from the ball a lot.”
Guerrier made his presence felt for the Illini as well, recording his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes on the floor.
“I’m the oldest guy on the team so I’ve got to take pride in that,” Guerrier said. “Just being a leader out there, making sure that everyone stays positive and finding a way to win games.”
Off the court, Guerrier welcomed the birth of his daughter yesterday, Natalia Rose. Guerrier didn’t mention it to the media but head coach Brad Underwood didn’t want it to go unnoticed.
“The blessings in life of having a child are pretty special,” Underwood said. “I did want to make sure that I mentioned that because that’s pretty damn cool and pretty special to be a dad.”
Coach Underwood also praised Guerrier’s play on the floor, as he was a force to be reckoned with on defense.
“You can’t move Quincy,” Underwood said. “His defense changed the game, it suffocated them.”
Coleman Hawkins was able to figure things out in the second and fill the stat sheet after a quiet first game, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Even though Illinois is still perfect in the win column, there are a lot of areas to improve on.
The orange and blue will have to clean things up in a lot of departments come the tough matchups they have against top-10 ranked Marquette, Florida Atlantic and Tennessee in the next month.
Especially with the grueling Big Ten schedule they have ahead.
But still, a win is a win. And this Illinois team is embracing their defensive driven culture.
“The flow, the disruption, that’s everything our program is about,” Underwood said. “You’ve got to find a way to win ugly games, and tonight we did that with an unbelievable defensive effort and we beat a good team.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Quincy Guerrier with the throw down.
TSJ joined the dunk party as well with this fast break slam.
Shannon from WAY downtown.
- Once again, Illinois struggled early from behind the arc. The orange and blue shot 0-of-6 from three point range in the first half and 4-of-16 overall.
- Illinois also fell flat again at the free throw line, ending the first half shooting just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe and 8-of-16 overall.
- On a brighter note, Illinois dominated the Golden Grizzlies in the paint, outscoring them 44-28.
- The orange and blue also shut down Oakland from behind the arc, holding them to just 5-of-20 from three.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Sad, but true.
Every time Illinois misses a free throw, I need a hearty “THIS IS ILLINOIS BASKETBALL” from @timjsinclair.— Noted Battlehawks Fan Alex Orr (@theorryouknow) November 11, 2023
Illinois will look to start the season 3-0 next Tuesday as they host No. 5 Marquette in a ranked matchup.
Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. and you can watch it on FS1.