CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Eight games in 23 days down the stretch for Illinois.
And they started it off on the right foot.
After a slow start against Rutgers on Saturday afternoon, the Illini turned on the jets in the second half and held off the No. 24 Scarlet Knights, 69-60.
Down by 4 at halftime, the game completely turned around after a hot streak from the Illini and a complete collapse by Rutgers.
Illinois (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) went on a 19-0 run over a 10-minute stretch midway through the second half. And Rutgers couldn’t buy a bucket, missing 15 consecutive shots.
“Versatility is our team’s strength,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “It’s not just one center blocking shots, it’s a bunch of guys.”
Coleman Hawkins led the way in scoring with 18 points. Underwood understands the importance of getting him involved in order to have success.
“We need Coleman in an aggressive mode on the offensive side of the basketball,” Underwood said. “That Coleman Hawkins is an elite player.”
The Illini were beaten bad on the boards early. Rutgers jumped out to a 14-4 rebound advantage not even 10 minutes into the game.
But they found their way in the rebound department as well in the second half, out-rebounding the Scarlet Knights 40-35 when the final buzzer sounded.
Dain Dainja finished with an impressive 15 points (7-of-12 from the field) and added 7 rebounds.
“I definitely feel like I’m one of the best bigs in the Big Ten,” Dainja said. “At halftime we all bought in.”
Underwood praised Dainja’s play and his strength in mindset as the season has progressed.
“One thing that Dain Dainja has is a lot of confidence,” Underwood said. “I’m really proud of Dain.”
Illinois’ leading scorer — Terrence Shannon Jr. — didn’t attempt a shot until nearly 10 minutes into the game, and the Illini didn’t attempt a free throw until nearly 12 minutes in. TSJ found his rhythm in the second half and finished with 15 points.
Sophomore guard Luke Goode saw his first action of the season and was welcomed by a loud roar from the Illini faithful.
Goode’s 5 minutes were taken from RJ Melendez, who Underwood said had been suspended for a violation of team rules.
In what felt like a must-win conference game, Illinois put the pieces together in the last 20 minutes and came up with a massive victory at home, picking up another Quad 1 victory and jumping Rutgers in the league standings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
ICE COLD SHOOTING: Illinois struggled severely from behind the arc, finishing 1-12 on three pointers in the first half. Sencire Harris made the team’s first three with just 4:27 left in the first half.
WHERE R U RJ?: Illinois sophomore guard RJ Melendez didn’t see the court at all for the first time this season due to a suspension. With Goode back in the mix, it’ll be interesting to see where RJ still fits into this lineup.
RUTGERS REGRESSION: After a 4 point halftime lead, the Scarlet Knights didn’t score for over 10 minutes in the second half. They were 0-15 from the field during this stretch.
SCORING SURGE: Over the same 10 minute stretch, the Illini were putting on a shooting clinic. Illinois went on a 19-0 run to completely flip the script of this Big Ten matchup.
- Coleman Hawkins scored a team high 18 points. This is Hawkins highest scoring game since he dropped 20 against Wisconsin on Jan. 7.
- Illinois outscored Rutgers 39-26 in the second half after trailing by 4 at halftime.
- Sencire Harris had a game high +/- of 21 in just a little over 18 minutes on the floor. That is 9 points higher than any other player on either team.
- The Illini are now 7-0 this season following a loss. They have not lost back-to-back games since Jan. 17-21, 2022.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The crowd goes crazy for Luke Goode’s season debut.
That sound you just heard?— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) February 11, 2023
That was for Luke Goode, who just checked into the game. @lukegoode10 x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/yN8Ya7ReIw
TWEETS OF THE GAME
y’all ever seen a d1 program need to be reminded who’s out on the court?— Illini Pride (@IlliniPride) February 11, 2023
only the finest education in jersey pic.twitter.com/x6R1ZvwNX6
One of the best duos ever: Brad and halftime adjustments— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 11, 2023
Illinois will visit the Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday night to looking for revenge against Penn State in a Valentine’s Day matchup.
Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m.