No. 19 Illinois men’s basketball blows out Monmouth for third straight victory

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James Hoeck

Guard Terrance Shannon Jr. pushes through EIU’s defense during last Monday’s game. The Illini achieve another victory during Monday night’s match against Monmouth with a score of 103-65.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

No. 19 Illinois men’s basketball earned its third win of the season after a 103-65 blowout over the Monmouth Hawks on Monday night.

Underwood named the same starting lineup as his first three matches this season, with freshman guard Skyy Clark, sophomore guard RJ Melendez, senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., fifth-year senior forward Matthew Mayer and junior forward Coleman Hawkins.

The Illini started it off hot with a three-point shot from Shannon, a steal and bucket by Melendez and another three by Clark. This 8-0 run in 52 seconds was the best start to a match that the Illini have had all season. From here, Illinois got a little sloppier.

While the threes were on for the Illini early, with fifth-year senior forward Matthew Mayer and Shannon each knocking one more down, the team also turned the ball over several times after that first 8-0 run. Four turnovers in the first five minutes let the Hawks back into the game, as the Illini only led 14-9 after five minutes played.

While Illinois had a turbulent few minutes with sloppy offense, that was an outlier for the rest of the match. Clark and redshirt sophomore Dain Dainja used the same pick and roll play two possessions in a row to convert for four points, while Clark grabbed two of his own off of a solo drive to the basket.

“I loved the stretch in the first half between Dain and Skyy in ball screens,” Underwood said. “Just an unbelievable segment of execution and of a freshman making the right reads.”

Illinois led 31-11 10 minutes into the half, with Shannon leading the way in points with 13 while pulling down and on his way to his best night yet in orange.

With both teams in the bonus, and five to go in the first half, the Illini extended their lead to 31 after a couple free throws from Hawkins and two threes from freshman guard Jayden Epps. Epps shot 60% from three in the first half, the most efficient of any Illini that shot two or more in the early scoring frenzy. He ended the half with 15 points.

Going into the half, the Illini maintained that lead, up 63-33 at the break. This was the Illini’s most productive half of the season, and it ended with Epps and Shannon each scoring over 15 points. Overall, Illinois shot 23-30 from the field, a much improved statline from previous matches this season.

Defensively, the Illini were stellar in the first half. Building off of that first minute with three turnovers, 15 turnovers were forced by halftime. Melendez and Dainja in particular were extremely active in stripping the ball, each with two steals by the half.

The second half started much differently than the first, with the Hawks initially keeping it much closer due to some sloppy defense by Underwood’s unit. Despite this, Shannon continued on his high-scoring night with five more points to add to his name. The Illini extended their lead, 75-39 five minutes into the half.

Hawkins got back into the game around the 12-minute mark with a steal leading to a dunk. These were his first points of the half. After a superb performance night one against Eastern Illinois, he has been unable to replicate that in the past two matches.

Halfway through the second half, the scoreline remained pretty stagnant. Illinois, now up 81-46, kept using Shannon for points while defensively the Illini let up a couple easy buckets. Shannon converted another three-point play to put his tally at 30 for the night.

Epps broke 20 points on his fifth three pointer of the night, shooting 5-9 from beyond the arc. After a 35+/- against Kansas City, he had his best scoring night yet, with 21 total against the Hawks.

The Illini rode out the momentum to their first 100+ performance this season, winning the match 103-65. Top performers for Illinois included Shannon with team highs of 30 points and eight rebounds, Epps with 21 points and Dainja, who got a few buckets in the dying embers of the match, with 15 points overall.

Shannon stole the show on Monday night with his ability to drive and score at seemingly any moment the ball touched his hands.

“I know I’m either too strong for the opponent or too fast,” Shannon said. “I just look to get in, make contact and try to finish. I was talking to Coach Fletch actually last game and I said I was gonna try and lead the nation in fouls drawn.”

Next up is Illinois’ first road match of the season against No. 8 UCLA in Las Vegas. This will be the Illini’s first big test of the season.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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