No. 19 Illinois men’s basketball loses out to No. 16 Virginia in hard-fought Continental Tire Main Event championship

The+Illinois+mens+basketball+team+huddle+before+the+game+against+Quincy+on+Oct.+28.+

Sydney Laput

The Illinois men’s basketball team huddle before the game against Quincy on Oct. 28.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Despite a memorable victory against No. 8 UCLA on Friday, No. 19 Illinois men’s basketball fell to No. 16 Virginia in the championship of the Continental Tire Main Event on Sunday. The Illini leave Las Vegas 4-1 overall.

Illinois took the court with the same starting five of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., freshman guard Skyy Clark, sophomore guard RJ Melendez, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer and junior forward Coleman Hawkins.

Virginia started off hot with a 5-0 run before Melendez got the Illini on the board with a three. A Cavaliers foul on Clark led to the freshman leveling the score from the free-throw line with two consecutive makes.

Both teams continued to go back and forth against one another in an extremely physical half of basketball. Illinois gained its first lead of the night with 11:45 to go as Melendez made a second straight three-point shot. The Illini also enjoyed the impact of its second unit, with redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja, freshman guard Jayden Epps and Harris continuing to bring the energy and buckets to keep the game close.

Illinois went on a 6-0 run off of scoring from Shannon, Harris and Clark before Virginia began to claw its way back. After a 29-point performance against UCLA, Shannon was more reserved in the first half, scoring-wise. However, the senior instead was instrumental in threading the needle offensively and led the team in assists with five heading into halftime.

With the game tied 28-28, both the Illini and the Cavaliers fell into a collective scoring drought that lasted 2:37. Shannon hit a three to end the drought for Illinois, and the team headed into the locker room up 31-29 on the scoreboard.

The sharp play Illinois enjoyed at the end of the first half was nowhere to be found coming out of the break. Turnovers, fouls and missed chances from close led to an early 6-0 run for Virginia before Shannon managed to score a well-executed midrange jumper to kickstart the Illini’s second-half scoring. Hawkins tied the game up with his first make from beyond the arc before the Cavaliers answered with a three of their own.

Once again, poor shooting from both teams resulted in several minutes of blanks. The Illini and the Cavaliers played strong defensive performances as shooters frequently had to take contested shots that did not fall.

Shannon ended the drought from close range and both teams continued their back and forth scoring. The Illini gave away points off of fouls and struggled to retake the lead with under ten minutes to play. Hawkins hit a big shot from beyond the arc to narrow the deficit to two, however the Cavaliers consistently managed to score despite big threes from the Illini.

The pace and energy of Illinois and Virginia’s play only continued to rise as the game entered its final stretch. Epps’ three point shooting was instrumental to tying the game up at 53 and Dainja regained the lead for Illinois after a powerful dunk with 4:49 left in the game.

The final three minutes saw the lead change with nearly every possession. Neither the Illini nor the Cavaliers backed down, with players diving for loose balls and matching each other’s energy. However, Illinois’ shooting suffered a sharp decline in the final two minutes and Virginia closed out the hard-fought championship on an 14-3 run to claim the hardware.

Illinois moves to 4-1 on the season and returns to Champaign to take on Lindenwood on Friday.

 

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