No. 18 Illinois men’s basketball grabs 68-47 win against Alabama A&M

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Sidney Malone

Forward/Guard Matthew Mayer attempts a jump shot against Penn State during a game last Saturday, The Illini rebounded from last week’s match against Penn State with a 68-47 victory against Alabama during today’s match at the State Farm Center.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

A lack of leadership was shown in last week’s defeat to Penn State, according to Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. Against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, No. 18 Illinois responded, winning its penultimate home match of 2022, 68-47.

After a rough outing at home to Penn State, Brad Underwood elected for a different starting lineup for the first time this season Saturday afternoon. Freshman guard Jayden Epps got the start over sophomore guard RJ Melendez, alongside freshman guard Skyy Clark, senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., junior forward Coleman Hawkins and fifth-year senior forward Matthew Mayer.

Alabama A&M was the first team on the board, but from that point on, it was all Illinois in the first half. A Mayer three opened up the floodgates, followed by each of the guards getting involved with two of their own. Five minutes in, Illinois held a 14-7 lead.

After shooting under 45% in the last outing, the Illini began shooting well, going 80% from the field early on. However, even as the three began to cool off, stout defense and hard work on the boards allowed the Illini to suppress the Bulldogs deeper into the half. With 10 minutes remaining, Illinois led 21-11 with 12 rebounds, to Alabama A&M’s six.

At a media break with 7:13 remaining in the half, Illinois had three players on six points. All three starting guards were imposing themselves on the match, after poor recent outings from Epps and Shannon in particular. After being a topic of concern for Underwood in the previous couple weeks, Shannon silenced his coach with double digit points in the first half.

After not starting for the first time this season, Melendez tweaked his shoulder after coming down with a rebound with about four minutes to play in the first half. He came back in just two minutes later, ending the half with no points and just one rebound after five minutes played.

At the half, the Illini led 36-19. An improved defensive performance, Illinois held A&M to just 6-30 from the field and forced nine turnovers. However, Underwood was animated close to the half as Hawkins let a rebound slip away. Despite out-rebounding the Bulldogs 25-16 in the first half, he demanded more from his bigs, who made up just 12 of the 25.

Poor defense to start the second half by the Illini saw the Bulldogs cut their deficit to just three. After five minutes played in the second half, just two points were scored by Illinois via Shannon. The Bulldogs began the half on a 16-2 run, and the Illini drought lasted eight minutes, ending with a Hawkins free throw.

Clark picked up his fourth personal foul early into this drought and had to sit for the majority of the second half as a result, fouling out with three minutes left. Mayer, also in foul trouble, got the Illini out of their slump after a series of stops around the 12-minute mark. He grabbed two boards and swatted two Bulldog layups in quick succession, grabbing four points of his own.

Mayer and Shannon kept the scoring going, but Hawkins’ three extended the Illini’s lead back to double digits with six to play. From that point on, Illinois remained out of reach and finished with a 68-47 win. Mayer was undoubtedly Illinois’ MVP on the afternoon, scoring 21 points, grabbing seven boards, blocking three shots and forcing two steals.

Illinois’ next match is on Thursday, as it takes on Mizzou in the annual Braggin’ Rights matchup in St. Louis.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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