Illinois men’s basketball downs Bethune-Cookman in 33-point victory


Sidney Malone

Guard Jayden Epps attempts to get past Penn State on Dec. 10. The Illini dominated at home on Thursday with an 85-52 victory against Bethune-Cookman.

By James Barrowman, Staff Writer

Thursday night in Champaign, the Illini met the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats for a game that quickly turned into a slaughter. The Illini took a sizable lead early and refused to let go throughout the game. This one-sided contest puts Illinois at 9-4 on the season after a 85-52 victory.

Bethune Cookman started off with the ball, but lost it quickly as a result of the Illinois defense. The Illini’s focus early in the game was to improve the transition game, and reduce the amount of turnovers, which were the two factors that led to the team’s loss against Missouri. Junior forward Coleman Hawkins started the scoring shortly after the three-minute mark of the game, which was quickly followed by senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. scoring after a quick turnover.

Shortly before the 5-minute mark the Illini found themselves up 10-0 as a result of the shutdown defense and quick ball movement that allowed the Illini to march down to the opposite side of the court. Bethune-Cookman would eventually retaliate, but Illinois continued to dominate the score moving into the 10 minute mark, in large part because of the numerous three pointers and drive in scores by freshman guard Jayden Epps. The Wildcats seemed unable to buckle under the relentless pressure that came from the animated Illini squad.

Sophomore guard RJ Menendez drew a foul at 10:54 for a free throw opportunity which he would gain two points on, increasing the Illini’s lead to 23-8. The Wildcats would try to retaliate after Menendez’s free throw, but their momentum was ruined by a foul that saw the Illini regain possession to continue their offensive onslaught.

A few minutes later Dainja would pick off a shot outside the Illini paint to kickstart an offensive sequence that saw Shannon carrying the ball to the net before Dainja jumped in to score after Shannon’s attempt fluttered on the rim.

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The next minute saw the Illini take their first foul where Bethune-Cookman’s Derrick Carter-Hollinger Jr. was able to get another point for the struggling Wildcats on the free throw.

Dainja and Shannon were a constant presence for the Illini everytime they were in the offensive zone during the late part of the first half. The two were able to set up opportunities while on the rush, and their ball movement while in the paint allowed the Illini to facilitate quality scoring chances. By the end of the first half both Shannon and Dainja were able to pick up 8 points.

The Illini’s dominance in all aspects of the game would continue late into the first half. The Illini were able to avoid the turnover woes of the Missouri game with the Illini having only 4 turnovers at the 7 minute mark, while they had forced 13 turnovers on the Wildcats. These turnovers led to quality chances for the Illini which contributed to the sizable lead that Illinois effortlessly held onto throughout the entire first half. Another aspect that helped the Illini’s offense to excel was the amount of fouls that Bethune-Cookman took throughout the course of the first. By the end of the first half the Wildcats had taken 10 fouls, this allowed the Illini to bolster the score deficit with a 53.3% free-throw percentage.

By the end of the first half Illinois led the Wildcats with a 47-19 score following a near perfect performance. The Illini excelled defensively boasting ten assists, eight steals and six turnovers leading into the second. A far cry from the uninspired defensive play that occurred against Missouri. The offense was nothing to scoff at either with a 51.6% from the field, a clear improvement from last Thursday’s 32.7%. Overall, the Illini had 22 of their 47 points come from the turnovers they forced.

Coming out of the break, the Illini made it clear they were set on continuing their relentless scoring. Dainja started the scoring in the second half after making two free throws to set the pace for Illinois. Meanwhile for the Wildcats they’d go scoreless for the first 3 minutes of the half, but they were able to sustain more offensive pressure compared to the first half, even getting a three point shot off on the impenetrable Illini defense to make the score 53-24. Shannion and Dainja would kill the momentum from that three point shot shortly after as they’d combine to net another two points for the Illini.

Heading into the second half the best player for Illinois was Dainja, who dominated the court for the first half. His dominance continued in the second as Dainja was the first member of the Illini squad to reach double digits in points having 16 points after 5 minutes of play in the second. He was active both offensively and defensively, and his play contributed to the multiple scoring runs the Illini went on throughout the game.

At 13:18 and later at 12:50 the Illini took fouls that briefly gave the Wildcats some more life than they had been showing throughout the rest of the game. Bethune-Cookman became more confident and bold on offense, which was bolstered by some turnovers by the Illini, which prompted Bradwood to call a time out at 11:57. From 15:00 to 11:57 the Wildcats were able to net 11 points. After the timeout the Illini were quick to react as they scored almost immediately after the game resumed thanks to a jumper by Jayden Epps.

At 10:26 Wildcat center Dylan Robertson hit the deck hard which prompted a review by the officials which resulted in a common foul on Dainja. This was not enough to deter the Illini or Dainja though, as he would score quickly after. Bethune-Cookman would respond with a solid drive to the paint, but their attempt was thwarted by a stunning Mayer block. Another scoring opportunity for Dainja would arrive at 7:38 as a result of a Wildcat foul. This would cap a 5-4 run before the Wildcats were able to turn the ball around to take it into the Illini end before a timeout was called from Bethune-Cookman coach Reggie Theus.

Heading into the last 5 minutes of the game Illinois still held a dominant 77-41 lead. However blatant turnovers from the Illini continued to be a problem, with the Illini giving three turnovers in the span of 90 seconds,  from 6:40-5:10. The Wildcats were able to capitalize on the turnovers, putting up 8 points in a 3 minute span to get an 8-0 run.

The Illini’s lackluster play would continue with multiple scoring chances for the Wildcats including a free throw as a result of a blocking foul. Bethune-Cookman’s aggressive play would continue for the next minute but at the 2 minute mark the Illini were able to end Bethune-Cookman’s 11-0 run and answered with a 90 second 6-0 run. In the final minute the Illini were able to prevent the WIldcat’s from scoring, resulting in a 85-52 Illini victory. Dainja finished the night as the Illini’s top scorer with 22 points.

Looking forward, the Illini will travel north to face another team of Wildcats at Northwestern in a Big Ten showdown on Jan. 4.


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