CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This one was over at the break.
After a come-from-behind win against Valparaiso on Friday, Illinois made it two in a row with a 88-60 win over Southern University on Sunday night. Terrence Shannon Jr. powered the Illini with a season-high 24 points.
Following a strong start, Illini fans had to hold their breath as freshman guard Niccolo Moretti suffered a right foot injury and had to be helped off the court late in the first half. He returned to the bench after the break in a walking boot; no word yet on how long he’ll be out.
Despite the same lingering three point and free throw struggles that have seemed to carry over from last season, Illinois once again dominated down the stretch and were able to win comfortably.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Much like Illinois’ win over Oakland, Dain Dainja was the star player early on in the first half.
The forward scored the orange and blue’s first 8 points while starting 5-of-5 from the field, finishing with 12 points before the break.
“Dain got going, in the first media (timeout) I told him to go get dirty,” Shannon said. “He’s a really good player, a real key for us.”
Once again, the three ball did not get rolling for the Illini early on, as they shot 0-of-5 from three point range without a single make in the first half.
However, the three ball wasn’t needed as Illinois dominated in the paint.
Shannon scored all 6 of his field goals from inside the arc and finished with 17 points before the half. Illinois finished the first on a 17-0 run, with 13 of those points coming from Shannon.
Head coach Brad Underwood also praised Shannon’s elite play on the other side of the ball that has been on full display this entire season.
“Terrence was Terrence,” Underwood said. “He’s literally the best defender in college basketball and he did that again tonight.”
The senior continued his dominance in the second half, but gave Illinois fans ANOTHER huge scare on the night when he came down hard on his wrist.
Luckily, after a commercial break, Shannon was still in the game to shoot his free throws as the fall appeared much worse than it actually ended up being.
Unfortunately, the injury scares weren’t done for the night just yet
With less than a minute left in the contest, freshman guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn appeared to roll his ankle after stepping on a photographer. The initial reaction appeared to be much less severe than that of Moretti’s which was a positive sign.
It was just one of those days.
On a lighter note, the Illinois (4-1) defense flexed their muscles early on too, as they forced the Jaguars (1-4) to shoot just 11-of-33 before the break and 2-of-13 from behind the arc.
Over a 10+ minute stretch over the course of both halves, Illinois went on a 27-4 run to make the score 55-28 with just over 15 minutes of game left. This scoring stretch was attributed to Illinois pushing the pace and speeding the game up.
“The faster you get the ball up the court, it gives you more time to run offense and more time to execute,” Underwood said. “We don’t want to let the defense get set.”
Despite the final score, Illinois was far from perfect on the night. Ball security was a huge issue, with the Illini finishing with 21 total turnovers on the night.
“Some of the passes we threw just weren’t really smart,” Shannon said. “We’ve just got to make better decisions at the end of the day.”
On top of that, the orange and blue continued to struggle from three as they shot just 5-of-22 from behind the arc on 22.7 % shooting. If you remove Luke Goode, the team only made 2 shots from 3 on the night.
Underwood mentioned that Quincy Guerrier’s 1-of-16 start to the season from three can be attributed to a wrist injury he suffered in practice days before the Kansas scrimmage where he got his hand caught in a jersey.
“He’s been fighting that, you can see he’s got all kinds of tape and stuff on it, he’s been living in rehab,” Underwood said. “Now he’s thinking about it, he’s got to quit it. He’s got to kind of get out of his own way a little bit because the wrist doesn’t hurt when he dunks it.”
Also, Coleman Hawkins remains on a day-to-day injury basis.
While Illinois continues to leave things to be desired in multiple facets of their game, they still were able to win in dominating fashion.
“I thought we handled our business,” Underwood said. “On to the next.”
With just one more game before the start of Big Ten play, Illinois is going to have to clean a lot of things up if it wants more dominant wins like the showing it had Sunday.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Dainja starting things early with this slam.
Before the injury, Moretti was starting to turn into pure PG form for the Illini.
Goode got it going from behind the arc coming out of the half.
- Illinois dominated early from inside the arc, shooting 18-of-24 on two point field goals in the first half while 24 of its total 30 attempts from the floor were from inside the three-point line.
- The charity stripe continued to haunt the orange and blue, as they finished just 11-of-17 on just 64.7% shooting from the line.
- Neither team had much success from the three point line in the first half, combining for 0-of-12 from behind the arc until the first three point field goal was made by the Jaguars with 5:26 left in the first period.
- Illinois decimated Southern in the paint, outscoring them 40-12 down low in the first half, and 62-28 overall.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Seems like a winning formula to me.
Look what happens when every shot isn’t a three!— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) November 20, 2023
Illinois will look to make it three in a row as they host Western Illinois this Friday.
Tipoff will be at 8 p.m. and you can watch it on BTN.