Notes, player grades from Illinois’ 38-point win over Monmouth

Freshman+guard+Jayden+Epps+goes+for+the+lay+up+during+the+second+half+of+the+game+against+Kansas+City+on+Friday.+

Sydney Laput

Freshman guard Jayden Epps goes for the lay up during the second half of the game against Kansas City on Friday.

By Drew Friberg, James Kim, and Carson Gourdie

The Illini ended Monday night’s blowout over Monmouth on top, ahead of some of the fiercest competition they’ll face this season awaiting them on Friday night against UCLA. While there are few things you can take from these early season matches, one thing is for sure: this iteration of Illinois is incredibly fun to watch.

With players like Jayden Epps going off for 21 points in just his third match of his collegiate career, and Skyy Clark growing in confidence, the ceiling for this team is extremely high. It may take a bit of time to reach it, but there is no doubt that this is one of Illinois’ most talented lineups ever.

Terrence Shannon Jr. is a bucket

Shannon is one of the best pure scorers Illinois has seen don the orange and blue. While it seems like a crazy statement, I don’t think it’s that outlandish. He is able to find points out of seemingly nothing, whether it is a drive to the basket, drawing a foul or shooting from deep.

Monday night, he was 9-14 overall, going 4-9 from beyond the arc and shooting 10 shots from the line. While these are stats from against a team like Monmouth, Shannon’s pure scoring mindset was in full gear, and showcased what he is truly about. The ways he is finding to score in these first few games will still be likely to find success against some of the better opposition the team will face this year.

In a postgame interview, Shannon said he likes to model his game after Giannis Antetokounmpo, driving to the basket with force and using his speed to get past any defenders on the way. Additionally, he told his coaches that he wanted to end the season the most fouled player in the nation. Averaging 10+ shots from the line so far this season, he is making a strong case for that early on this season.

Terrence Shannon Jr.: A+

Terrence Shannon Jr. had himself a night against Monmouth. All the reasons for excitement surrounding the senior’s transfer to Illinois were on full display against the Hawks, as this was the version of Shannon that fans couldn’t wait to see in action.

Shannon was by far the most explosive player on the court and shot the ball significantly better than in the Illini’s last outing. The Hawks simply could not keep up with the sheer speed and power that Shannon brought on both ends of the floor. The guard led Illinois during fast-break plays and continued to draw fouls frequently. Shannon shot 9-14 from the floor, 4-9 from three and 8-10 from the line. 

In addition to the 30 points Shannon put up, he also led the team with eight rebounds and had the second most assists with four. The Chicago native was everywhere on the court and set the pace of Illinois’ play throughout the match. This was Shannon’s game and he could do no wrong on Monday night.

Skyy Clark: B

Skyy Clark’s performance running point was overshadowed by Epps’ career night coming off the bench, but the Los Angeles native still put in solid shifts against the Hawks. Clark showed off his handles and wasn’t afraid to drive to the basket early on, though many times was unable to get to the rim for a finish. While Clark only attempted a pair of shots from the field on Monday, he made both, one of which being from three-point range. While outshined by Epps, Clark scored seven points, did a good job running the offense from the start and finished with a team-high six assists. 

Ty Rodgers: C+

Ty Rodgers continued to bring energy off the bench on Monday night, and while not having a big night by any means, was fairly consistent during his time on the floor. Rodgers also did not turn the ball over at all and remained a presence in the paint, snagging five rebounds for the Illini. The freshman played his secondary role well and finished both of his attempts from the field. A highlight of the night for Rodgers was his first-half dunk that ignited the crowd at State Farm Center. 

Coleman Hawkins: D

If a player was nonexistent on Monday night, Coleman was that player. A 23 point night against Eastern Illinois is beginning to look more and more like an outlier. 17 minutes for six points isn’t what you want from a big that is supposed to be transformed.

Both inside and outside, Coleman was relatively useless. Underwood claimed that the team “didn’t help” Coleman tonight, but to an extent, he needed to make some of his own opportunities. Fouling twice early on didn’t help his case at all.

Five rebounds wasn’t bad, but he also had five turnovers. Six points wasn’t terrible, but 1-5 from the field is pretty awful. He struggled to get into the game Monday night, and from here on out, he can’t afford to keep playing like that. 

I had high hopes for Coleman after game one. I knew he wouldn’t be a guaranteed 20 a night, but struggling to get involved against Monmouth should be worrying for Underwood. If he is a “trigger” on both ends of the court like Underwood said, then he needs to become more involved.

Dain Dainja: B

Another good performance from Dain, but he wasn’t able to completely impose himself like in past matches. By no means is 15 points ever a bad thing, but the big managed just four rebounds on the night. Compared to his past matches, both with double-doubles in points and rebounds, tonight was a little bit of a step back.

While he still managed to show a bit off the pick and roll and using post moves, the rebounding is a problem. Not managing 10 rebounds against a team that shot 21-49 on the night is a little problematic looking forward. If Dain can’t impose himself completely inside against Monmouth, what is he going to do against teams like UCLA and Baylor, potentially, this next week?

RJ Melendez: B

I was pleasantly surprised with RJ’s performance. After a lackluster start to the season, he was finally effective on both ends of the floor, and showed me why he deserves to start. He played hard, initially creating a turnover for points in the Illini’s first minute 8-0 run. 

In past matches he hasn’t wowed me with his ability to affect the game as Brad Underwood always talks about. He played just 14 minutes, but scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds on top of his two steals. One of his two turnovers was due to a high effort play, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

This was by far his most solid performance yet, but it honestly looked like Illinois’ weakest opposition yet. I’m going to need more from him moving forward against good teams, but this was at least a starting point. If I’m Underwood, I’m not mad with that performance.

Sincere Harris: C+

It seems like Harris is shaping up to be a project for Underwood – not a key contributor once UCLA and Baylor/Virginia line up across the Illini in Vegas. 

Harris finished with six points on only two shots, and the freshman failed to take charge in the 2nd half. While Harris didn’t start, he earned similar minutes as Melendez and Mayer. Harris’ energy also seemed to dip this game. The Illini faithful didn’t see Harris challenge defenses in the paint, and Harris’ still hasn’t showcased an ability to get his teammates involved on the offensive end. 

Jayden Epps: A

Epps continues to make his collegiate debut – 1-4 shooting and two points – look like an outlier. Epps played aggressive and took open shots instead of outsourcing the responsibility to riskier options. 

Epps finished with 21 points, and made a team-high five three pointers. Pretty good – and desired – for a team that is filled with athletic wings and guards and not sharpshooters. 

While running the court as the point guard, Epps did not force any shots and did a good job of playing clean basketball – evident by zero turnovers. 

While Clark provided his best performance yet and did a great job of facilitating, he hasn’t showcased whether he’s a deep threat. Epps should be considered the front-runner to secure the starting guard position because of his jump shot. 

Matthew Mayer: C+

Mayer didn’t perform awful at all. In fact, this is probably his strongest – i.e. least frustrating – performance yet with Illinois. The two early assists were nice, and he showcased strong court vision – such as finding an open Shannon at the three point line.

But Illinois didn’t acquire Mayer to pass the ball. 

Mayer has struggled to create his own shot while Shannon and Epps have thrived. The Baylor transfer finished 1 for 4 from the field. While Mayer hasn’t tanked the Illini, it’s fair to expect one of Baylor’s top performers to be more of a key contributor to Underwood’s program. 

Unlike last game, when Underwood pulled Mayer out for the whole second half because didn’t guard well, Mayer played significant second half minutes. However, Mayer made some sloppy decisions, missed open threes and failed to make a difference with rebounding.  

 

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