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No. 14 Illinois pulls away from Rutgers in Shannon’s return

The Illini sweep the season series against the Scarlet Knights.

TCR // Jack Jungmann

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Terrence Shannon Jr.’s return did not disappoint.

Despite an electric start in front of a standing home crowd, Illinois allowed Rutgers to claw back within five midway through the second half. With the crowd as quiet as it had been all day, Shannon charged down the court and made a pair of fast-break buckets to re-ignite the Illini faithful.

Shannon’s spark started a 21-5 run, and the Illini did not look back. The star’s first game back would not be spoiled, as an aggressive and balanced Illinois attack led to a 86-63 win on Sunday at State Farm Center.

“It was a nice response to see,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Our guys responded with some toughness and a little more energy.”

Shannon was activated Friday after a federal judge granted an injunction ending his indefinite suspension by the university after he was criminally charged with rape in Douglas County, Kansas.

Illinois (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten) had nearly every player step up during Shannon’s time away from the program, and Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon (team-high 18 points) did not slow down.

“Justin Harmon was just sensational today,” Underwood said. “He’s a downhill driver, and he’s shooting the three at a really high clip.”

Their 33 combined points led an Illinois squad on a day where their star players initially struggled.

Shannon was held without a field goal in the initial 30 minutes of the contest, but his first two buckets opened the floodgates for the veteran.

“He was very tired early,” Underwood said. “We integrated him in a nice way, and I thought he was solid.”

Shannon finished the game with 16 points and four assists, and his fast-break slam late was the exclamation point.

“He just makes the whole team feel whole again,” Harmon said. “He’s our brother. We’re happy to have him back.”

Marcus Domask and Coleman Hawkins scored 12 points apiece, but both struggled until late in Sunday’s game.

Hawkins came into the day shooting a career-best 37% from three, but the senior missed his first six from beyond the arc. His inefficiency extended to the entire team, as it shot 6-of-27 (22%) from distance and an uncharacteristic 59% from the free throw line.

However, the Illini lived in the paint all day long (50 points in the paint) and shot over 50% from the field.

Rutgers (10-8 Big Ten, 2-5 Big Ten) went down by as much as 15 in the first half, but it did not go away without a fight. A huge part of that fight was big man Cliff Omoruyi.

After being limited to seven points in December’s matchup, Omoruyi dominated the inside and scored a game-high 22 points — including 18 of the Scarlet Knight’s points in the paint.

He kept Rutgers within shooting distance for most of the contest, while Aundre Hyatt (11 points) and Noah Fernandes (10 points) were the only other ones in double figures.

On the other hand, the Illini had five players score in double digits. In the end, their balanced effort (40 bench points) and unselfish play (17 assists) were too much for the Scarlet Knights.

“I think that anybody who’s a fan of basketball has to enjoy our ball movement,” Underwood said.

With the win, Illinois moves into sole possession of third place in the Big Ten.

“You don’t get many 20-point wins in this league,” Underwood said. “We escaped tonight with a really solid performance.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

HOT START: Thirty-five seconds into his appearance, Shannon found Hawkins for an alley-oop dunk. Thirty seconds later, he found Hawkins for another slam. Shannon’s electric first minute set the tone for the rest of the half.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

What a way to start the game.

Back-to-back plays had the crowd ROCKING.

One of his two put-back dunks on Sunday.

The exclamation point.

SOUND SMART

  • Quincy Guerrier recorded his seventh double-double of the season, going for 15 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Illinois outscored Rutgers in the paint 50-32 and out-rebounded Rutgers 46-32.
  • Illinois has won five of the last six matchup against Rutgers, including the last three.
  • The Illini improve to 13-4 all-time vs. the Scarlet Knights.

TWEET OF THE GAME

UP NEXT

Another rematch game is on tap, as the Illini head up to Evanston on Wednesday night to face Northwestern.

Tip off is set for 8 p.m. and will be televised on BTN.