CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “It was a tale of two halves,” is how Brad Underwood opened his postgame presser after Illinois’ 87-64 win over Valparaiso on Friday. They dealt with foul trouble, trouble shooting the ball and a career night from Valparaiso guard Isaiah Stafford.
“They came out and punched us,” Underwood said, pointing to Jaxon Edwards and Stafford as standouts from Valparaiso’s impressive 45-point first half. Edwards finished with a game-high 15 rebounds, while Stafford finished with a game-high 30 points.
A Coleman Hawkins-less Illinois had to fight hard for a win.
Terence Shannon Jr. had 22 points and seven rebounds, while Dain Dainja had 16 points and seven rebounds after playing just three minutes in the midweek loss against Marquette. Luke Goode matched his career-high with 13, 12 of which came from three-point land.
It was a return home for Valparaiso head coach Roger Powell, an all-time Illinois great who played at Illinois from 2001-05.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The first half was the Isaiah Stafford show. The 6-foot-2 guard from Bolingbrook put up 23 points in the first half on eight-of-15 shooting. Once Illinois guards Ty Rodgers and Terence Shannon Jr. picked up their second fouls midway through the first half, it became hard to stop the already-hot Stafford.
The Beacons would at one point lead by 10, that deficit being cut down to seven by halftime, Valparaiso leading 45-38.
While lackluster shooting from the free-throw line and beyond the arc was the story behind Illinois’ inability to close the gap in the first half, better shooting in the second half is what helped them pull away.
Three three-pointers from Luke Goode helped set the tone for a better second half, in which Underwood’s team shot 4-of-12 from deep.
While Stafford went up against some undersized guards in Niccolò Moretti and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn in the first half, he was met with Shannon Jr. and Rodgers in the second.
“Right when we got in, I said ‘I got 19’.” Shannon Jr. said. When guarded by Shannon Jr., he scored just two points.
“My teammates believe that I can stop whoever, so they put me on him in the second half and his water was cut off.”
“He was carrying us,” Powell said on Stafford’s performance. “It was a big weight on his shoulders, so I think what you’d seen in that second half, some of that was fatigue, too.”
“We’re not quite battle-tested yet, but we’ll get there,” Powell said. He pointed to the battle-tested nature of the Illinois team, which has several transfers and upperclassmen, as one of the big differences in the second half.
Great defense and offensive adjustments helped Illinois overcome a sloppy first half to win 87-64.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Green Light! Goode’s shooting to start the second half helped wipe away the seven-point Valpo lead.
The Dainja Zone. Dain Dainja’s play in the paint in the second half helped the Fighting Illini to several second-chance buckets, like this one.
- Quality in their Quantity. Illinois’ supporting cast helped ease the load of some early foul trouble. The Illini bench scored 30 points to Valparaiso’s 10 points.
- Not-so-charitable. Illinois continued to struggle from the free-throw line, going 12-for-24. No player would score twice in one trip at the line, meaning no free nuggets for the crowd of 14,894.
Illinois is back in action on Sunday against Southern University.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be on the Big Ten Network.