CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Three words: Terrence. Shannon. Jr.
The game is tied at 61. Just over a minute left.
With the entire State Farm Center ready to explode, Shannon has the ball in his hands.
The veteran charges to his left, and with a full head of steam, he gives Illinois its second lead of the game. Pure pandemonium.
“Shannon was electric getting downhill,” said head coach Brad Underwood.
Despite trailing by 18 at half and allowing a career-high 35-point performance to Boo Buie, Illinois kept fighting back. Shannon led the fight with a 24-point eruption in the second half, and the Illini pulled out a 66-62 nail-biting win over No. 21 Northwestern at State Farm Center on Thursday night.
HOW IT HAPPENED
From the start, it looked like it was going to be all Northwestern, as Buie made a trio of three-pointers early to put the Wildcats up 14-6.
The Illini (19-9, 10-7 Big Ten) went on an early 8-0 run to tie things up at 14, but from there, it was all purple. Illinois went almost six minutes without a bucket following that run, and Northwestern (20-8, 11-6 Big Ten) took advantage with a 23-5 run into the break.
Illinois looked lost offensively in the first 20 minutes. The 19 points scored were a season low. An 0-for-11 mark from three and 10 turnovers encapsulated what was a nightmarish half for the Illini.
“Not only do I think we lacked physical effort,” Underwood said, “I don’t know if I can remember a time here where our mental breakdowns were that dramatic.”
With his 22 first-half points, Buie even outscored Illinois by himself.
“Boo Buie is a first-team, all-league guard in my opinion,” Underwood said.
There seemed to be no sign of hope that anything would change. The entire stadium was lifeless; even the dozen Northwestern students at the top were being heard throughout.
However, the events that followed turned a disastrous night into a miraculous one.
After only having as many points as turnovers (two) in his first half since returning from a two-game concussion absence, Shannon came out of the locker room with his hair on fire.
He scored nine points to lead a thunderous 17-3 run to open the second half. Although all the momentum was on the Illini’s side, it proved to be short-lived.
The Wildcats struck back, charging on a big 12-0 run to take a commanding 52-36 lead. However, the Illini responded back with a 14-2 burst to keep the game close.
Down seven late, Illinois needed that extra spark, and its leading scorer provided it. Shannon scored 10 points down the stretch, and it was enough to give the Illini a HUGE comeback win.
“[Our coaches] told us to stay together, that we’re going to win this game,” Shannon said. “And our team believed it.”
Buie seemed in control throughout the game, but at the end of the day, Shannon was the guy.
“When [Shannon’s] going, it’s special to see,” said Ty Rodgers. “It’s different; something I’ve never seen before.”
Of course, he didn’t do it alone. When discussing Shannon’s impact, Underwood believed someone else rose above him.
“The player of the game, in my opinion, is Sencire,” Underwood said.
Per usual, Sencire Harris was a huge spark on the defensive end for the Illini. Whether it was big plays on the offensive or defensive sides, the freshman phenom’s intensity was through the roof.
After Buie scored his 32nd point of the night, Underwood put Harris on him. In the final 12 minutes of play, Buie didn’t make a single field goal.
“[He] just completely changed the night and elevated his teammates with that kind of effort,” Underwood said. “My hat’s off to him.”
Outside of a few outliers, Underwood has been unbelievable in his second half turnarounds at Illinois. It’s safe to say this one nearly topped them all.
“They changed what they were doing,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “Give them credit.”
Now at 10-7 in the conference, Illinois moves into a four-way tie for third and sits just a game behind the Wildcats in the stacked Big Ten race.
- Terrence Shannon Jr.: 26 points (8-10 FG, 4-5 from three)
- Matthew Mayer: 14 points (2-9 FG, 8-10 FT), 8 rebounds, 2 blocks
- Ty Rodgers: 6 points (3-5 FG), 8 rebounds
- Boo Buie: 35 points (12-24 FG, 6-11 from three)
- Brooks Barnhizer: 11 points (4-9 FG), 6 rebounds
- Chase Audige: 7 points (3-14 FG), 4 steals, 4 turnovers
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Sencire Harris... HOW DO YOU DO???
Locked down when it mattered most.
Illinois’ most athletic team in recent memory.
Coleman Hawkins' block of Boo Buie to seal the game with 2 seconds left was Illinois' 162nd block of the season, tying the school record for blocks previously set in 1978-79.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) February 24, 2023
Illinois leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the NCAA in blocked shots, averaging 5.8 bpg.
Huh, not too shabby.
Illinois is 5-3 against ranked opponents this season and has won 16 of its last 25 games vs. Top 25 teams.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) February 24, 2023
NW is trailing for the first time in 110 minutes of game time pic.twitter.com/0sAUhXjgaK— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 24, 2023
TWEETS OF THE GAME
Illinois rides one of its biggest wins of the season into Sunday, where it will head to Columbus to face Ohio State.
Tip is at 11 a.m. on CBS.