Notes, player grades from Illinois’ loss against No. 22 Maryland

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Sidney Malone

Junior forward Coleman Hawkins goes for the lay up against Syracuse on Nov. 29.

By James Kim and Carson Gourdie

Despite a tight back-and-forth battle throughout the night, Illinois fell 71-66 to No. 22 Maryland in its first Big Ten game of 2022–23. The Illini managed to cut down the double-digit deficit and fought for the lead in the dying minutes, but could not overcome strong shooting nights from Terrapin stars Jahmir Young and Hakim Hart.

Senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and junior guard Coleman Hawkins led the way for Illinois in the scoring department with 19 points and 16 points, respectively. However, despite a late surge, it was Maryland who was able to close out the contest on top.

Terrence Shannon Jr.: A-
Shannon played like a warrior against Maryland. The senior guard played through a horrific head injury that resulted in stitches and was one of the leaders for Illinois during the intense closing minutes. While Shannon was unable to lift the Illini past the Terrapins in the end, he still put up a solid 19-point performance on 7-16 shooting from the field.

The glaring stat was Shannon’s 0% three-point percentage. The senior shot 0-5 from three, a surprising drop off given the accuracy Shannon has shot with beyond the arc all season. Shannon also shot two airballs from deep in the second half.

On the bright side, the senior guard’s presence was felt on both ends of the court on Friday. The Chicago native finished the night with seven rebounds, three assists and a steal and block each. Mentioned previously, Shannon and Hawkins were going head-to-head with Maryland during the final stretch of the game. Shannon was also instrumental in building many of Illinois’ runs that brought the team within arms reach of victory.

The senior guard certainly gave the Illini a real chance to leave College Park 1-0 in Big Ten play, but at the end of the day it wasn’t meant to be.

Coleman Hawkins: A-

Four blocks? Only one turnover? Hawkins did a great job of contributing to the Illini in areas of the box score that don’t earn the headlines.

Brad Underwood has consistently hyped up Hawkins as one of the best players in the league. In the past two games, Hawkins has flashed both signs of offensive and defensive brilliance, and he has the potential to be a serious issue for nearly every team in the conference.

On offense, Hawkins’ couldn’t match the level of production from the Syracuse game — a triple-double. But it was refreshing to see Hawkins take a more assertive role in the offense, taking 17 shots. Sure, he missed a lot, and shooting six three-pointers is probably a bit high. If Hawkins can focus more on his inside game, Illinois can thrive.

RJ Melendez: A-

Chalk up another encouraging offensive performance for the sophomore, who finished with 13 total points and eight points in the second half. Would it be nice to see Melendez shoot in higher volume soon? Of course. But when Illinois has struggled with field goal percentage for much of the season, it’s nice to see Melendez make smart shots.

Melendez, after a slow start to the season, looks like he will become one of the top scoring options for the Illini — and most trustworthy — aside from Shannon Jr.

Dain Dainja: B-

Dainja shot efficiently from the field, making four out of his six shots. But the offensive output Dainja showcased in the first few games of the season is beginning to look like an outlier. Granted, Dainja’s ability to score will have him relying on others feeding him down low.

Dainja performed defensively, although it would have been nice to see him more productive on the boards. Regardless, Dainja wasn’t the issue in Illinois’ Big Ten opening loss.

Skyy Clark: C

It was another lackluster night for Skyy as the freshman guard never appeared comfortable against the Terrapins. Clark turned the ball over three times and committed two personal fouls. The freshman also did not provide much for the Illini offensively, recording six points on 2-5 shooting, three rebounds and two assists on the night.

The atmosphere in College Park was the most hostile that Clark has come across in his limited college experience likely affected his game. While Friday’s performance was a forgettable one for Clark, becoming exposed to a strong opponent atmosphere was a necessary step for his collegiate career.

Ty Rodgers: C

Rodgers played only nine minutes against the Terrapins. There isn’t much to say regarding the freshman’s performance given his limited role, as Rodgers shot 0-1 from the field and recorded a single assist and rebound each.

Matthew Mayer: F

Mayer got in foul trouble and played only 14 minutes. With a lineup only playing eight guys tonight, Mayer limited Illinois’ ability to have depth and fresh legs down the stretch.

Mayer continues to struggle on offense, and Underwood has said in previous games that “Mayer needs to grow his mullet back.” Hyped up as a three point threat, Mayer finished with a mere two points. When is it going to change? On-ball defense is usually always a strength for Mayer, and he will probably need to create offensive opportunities because of it.

Jayden Epps: F

Epps was the man just a few weeks ago, and it looked like he was the premiere freshman guard on the roster because he was actually willing to shoot. I hate to play devil’s advocate, but Epps probably tried to have too big of a role tonight, and the late-minute three-pointer he chucked up pretty much ended Illinois’ chances to secure a comeback victory.

Epps will never supplant Clark’s as the next point guard because of an inability to facilitate the ball to others. Epps shows really high potential with his jump shot, and tonight was probably just an off night. Regardless, that doesn’t change the fact that this was his worst game yet at Illinois.

 

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