COLUMBUS, Ohio — Well, well, well. How the turntables...
Heading on the road Tuesday to face the slumping Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois was looking to do something it had only done three times in the last 19 seasons: defeat the Buckeyes in Columbus.
Both teams went back and forth early on, but Illinois bounced back from a lackluster performance against Indiana with an efficient and balanced offense to pull ahead at the half.
From there, Terrence Shannon Jr. erupted with 18 second-half points, and Marcus Domask’s consistent play added on as Illinois defeated Ohio State, 87-75.
And just like that, the trend in Columbus may start to trend in the way of the Fighting Illini. Putting road failures in the backseat was not the only implication riding on Tuesday night’s game, though.
Illinois (16-5, 7-3 Big Ten) picked up a much-needed Quad 1 win — its third of the season, and one that could be a big resume builder come March. Brad Underwood’s squad also remains in third place in Big Ten standings while staying very much in contention for the conference title.
“Road wins are really hard to get,” Underwood said. “I’m excited about this one.”
The Illini duo of Shannon and Domask scored 23 apiece, but it was not smooth sailing at the start for Shannon. The star guard made his first three of the night, but he missed his next six shots.
But Domask and the rest of the team picked up the slack. Outside of Shannon, Illinois shot 14-for-23 (60.8%) from the field and 4-for-7 from three in the first half.
The fifth-year senior returned the favor to his team coming out of the break. The 18-point show Shannon put on in the second half included fast-break highlights and dagger threes reminiscent of the star’s play before his suspension.
“We’re way better when Terrence does what he did,” Domask said. “He’s a freak athlete.”
Coming into the game, Ohio State (13-8, 3-7 Big Ten) had not had a single 20-point scorer since the beginning of the month, but it had its own duo score 20+ points apiece against Illinois.
Rodney Gayle and Jamison Battle (the Minnesota transfer) accounted for over half of the team’s points, combining for 41 points and keeping the home team in the game.
A big reason the Illini were able to hold off the Buckeyes was successfully limiting their leading scorer, Bruce Thornton.
Averaging over 16 points a game heading into Tuesday’s matchup, Thornton was held to seven points on a measly 3-for-11 shooting.
“I thought the job [Shannon] did on Bruce was huge,” Underwood said.
While Domask and Shannon took over offensively and put the game away, the Illini may not have pulled out the win if it weren’t for its unsung heroes.
After Coleman Hawkins was forced out of the game for over nine straight minutes after picking up a technical foul (his fourth) early in the second half, Dain Dainja was asked to step up.
“My thing is just staying ready,” Dainja said. “When [Underwood] subbed me back in, I started to form my rhythm.”
In his most action since December (11 minutes), the big man was a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Dainja scored seven points and grabbed five boards — three of them being offensive.
“Dain hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes with the way we’ve been playing,” Underwood said. “For him to answer the call and be ready speaks volumes to who he is as a person.”
Dainja wasn’t the only role player who provided big minutes on Tuesday. Although he functions as an everyday starter, Ty Rodgers failed to play much in the second half in each of his past three games.
That theme changed against the Buckeyes. Rodgers played 13 minutes in the second half (26 total), and as the team’s point guard, he had 13 points (5-6 FG) and a game-high 10 rebounds — his second double-double of the season.
“Ty dominated the game,” Underwood said. “Everybody keeps putting 5-men on him, and we just keep laughing because he’s our best post player.”
A few Illini freshman stepped up as well. When both teams were throwing punches in the first half, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn and Amani Hansberry checked into the game.
Each guy played less than five minutes in the half (and game), but they had a plus/minus of +5 during that time and helped Illinois build a comfortable lead heading into the locker room. From there, the Illini didn’t let the Buckeyes get the game closer than six.
Illinois’ Quad 1 record is now at an improved 3-4, while Ohio State has lost six of its last seven games and continues to tumble down the Big Ten standings.
“We knew we would get an angry Ohio State team, and I thought they played great,” Underwood said. “They’re gonna win a lot of games coming down the stretch.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
#Illini Terrence Shannon Jr.’s performance since his reinstatement:— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 31, 2024
First three games: 13.3 ppg, 32.1% FG, 7.1% 3PT, 7 assists, 8 turnovers
Tonight: 23 points, 41.2% FG, 42.9% 3PT, 3 assists, 2 turnovers
A sign of things to come?
PAINT DOMINANCE: Coming into Tuesday’s game, a major problem that plagued the Illini was defense in the paint. In the past five games (3-2 record), Illinois averaged almost 43 point allowed in the paint.
Against Ohio State, Illinois’ problems continued with 44 points allowed down low. However, it was not nearly enough to give the Buckeyes the upset win.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Fastbreak Shannon is back.— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 31, 2024
Ty is the best rebounder in the stadium.
Dain, DGL and Amani have provided HUGE minutes.
Domask is as reliable as ever.
What we’re seeing so far tonight is still a fraction this team’s full potential.#Illini
Illinois has a four-day break before taking its winning streak back to State Farm Center for Sunday’s home matchup against Nebraska.
Game time is set for 5:30 pm on BTN.