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Illinois glides past Western Illinois to wrap up homestand

Wasn’t always comfortable, but still a big double-digit win.

Jack Jungmann // TCR

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A nice tune up before a handful of upcoming tests.

After a four-day rest following the 88-60 win over Southern, Illinois (5-1) wrapped up its season-opening home stand by hosting Western Illinois Friday night at State Farm Center.

In the first matchup between the two programs in 20 years, the Illini made sure it was never going to be fully fret over, even though it got closer at times than it necessarily needed to.

Even with Western Illinois (2-4) right behind in the rebound battle for a while, efficient and clean offensive play — while also limiting WIU to 29.6% shooting — led Illinois to a 84-52 win.

“We did what we had to, got off to a great start and kind of controlled things from there,” said head coach Brad Underwood.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Illinois started the game off in not-so familiar fashion offensively.

There have been slow starts that lead to very narrow halftime leads or even deficits; such as against Eastern Illinois, Oakland and Valparaiso. Friday was much different.

At the under-12 media timeout, the Illini were shooting 9-of-14 from the field and 3-of-4 from behind the arc.

While the overall shooting dipped to under 50% in the half, the three-point percentage stayed right at 50. Luke Goode was a big reason for that production, as the junior guard shot 3-of-5 in that category.

“Luke got going and, again, he’s one of the top three point shooters in the country,” Underwood said. “Our guys are starting to understand to look for him.”

Forward Dain Dainja had an efficient first half as well, delivering four buckets inside the paint.

Manning a comfortable 40-23 half-time lead was most in part to defense. The Illini held the Leathernecks to a total of nine first-half field goals with only two being from distance.

Illinois’ defense also forced seven turnovers — leading directly to 12 of the 40 Illinois points.

Although, similarly to Valparaiso’s Isaiah Stafford — who scored 23 points in the first half against Illinois in that game — WIU’s James Dent Jr. led all scorers at the half with 12 points, also scoring both WIU threes (Dent also led all scorers with 20 at the end).

Western Illinois was able to make it interesting a few times in the second half — cutting the lead down to as little as 11 thanks to seven offensive rebounds within the first 10 minutes.

“I thought we were a little soft at times in terms of rebounding the basketball,” Underwood said. “We had a couple balls knocked out of our hands.”

Once Illinois figured out how to stop those issues, it would only allowing three the rest of the way.

The three point shooting was not nearly as good in the first half (4-of-12), but Illinois got the job done from two.

A total of 37 shots were attempted in the second half, 22 of which coming from within the perimeter. Illinois was very efficient, making 12.

“I’ve been really pleased with this group and I’ve been really pleased with the improvements we’ve made,” Underwood said.

Play in the paint was dominated by the Illini as well, outscoring the Leathernecks 40-26. Nearly half of the 40 came from Dainja’s 16.

“Hats off to Dain Dainja, in my opinion player of the game,” Underwood said. “I thought he really controlled the paint.”

Illinois won by 32, but with the upcoming schedule, there are some signs for concern: free throws and allowing offensive rebounds.

The next three games consists of Rutgers, FAU and Tennessee. While Illinois won Friday’s offensive rebounding battle by one, if it hopes to win any of the upcoming matchups, it cannot afford to lose that battle and shoot only 50% from the charity stripe.

“We’re obviously taking everything one game at a time,” said guard Ty Rodgers. “But we know we got some big games coming up.”

INJURY UPDATES

Brad Underwood provided the media with updates regarding injuries to Niccolo Moretti and Coleman Hawkins postgame.

For Moretti, Underwood called it ‘just a foot injury.’

Hawkins on the other hand, could be seeing a return soon.

“Coleman has been extremely committed, extremely dedicated to getting back,” Underwood said. “It was my decision to hold him, it was not his. He wanted to try and keep playing.”

Underwood also said that this issue with Hawkins has been going on ‘a long time.’

“We’re making progress,” he said. “Long term it was about him being back to 100% cause he’s been fighting this for quite some time.”

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Who doesn’t love some good ball movement in transition?

Terrence Shannon Jr. once again started cooking in the second half, leading all scorers in the stanza with 13 points.

SOUND SMART

TWEET OF THE GAME

People have been asking.

UP NEXT

The Illini will be able to enjoy some rest before the mentioned tough stretch ahead.

A week from Saturday, Illinois will travel east for its first road test against Rutgers.

Tipoff Dec. 2 will be at 3 p.m. and televised on BTN.