Notes, player grades from Illinois’ loss against Northwestern

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Photo courtesy of Courtney Bay/Illini Athletics

Guard Jayden Epps jumps to the hoop during game against Northwestern on Jan. 4. During Wednesday’s game against Northwestern Epps showed confidence however lacked precision throughout his shots.

By James Kim and Carson Gourdie

There’s no sugarcoating it: Illinois suffered a bad loss to Northwestern in Evanston on Wednesday night. The Illini’s eight-game winning streak against their in-state rivals was snapped as the team struggled to maintain composure and had another poor shooting night.

While the Illini had the lead on a few occasions, they were unable to keep it and succumbed to extended scoring runs from the Wildcats. At its best, Illinois held a four-point advantage. At its worst, the visitors were on the wrong end of a 22-2 scoring run. The Illini have a lot to fix in a short period of time before taking the court against No. 14 Wisconsin on Sunday.

Terrence Shannon Jr.: C

Shannon was unable to lead the Illini on Wednesday night and cut a particularly frustrated figure throughout the game. The senior’s frustrations quickly translated into personal fouls and physical plays. Shannon fouled a total of five times, committed a flagrant foul in the first half and turned the ball over three times. He looked out of control in certain instances and was unable to really get going.

Shannon didn’t shoot well and finished the night with nine points, well below his 17+ points per game average. He also struggled to finish from close when the Wildcats forced him onto his left. That being said, the Illini shot poorly as a whole and Shannon was one of the few players to nail three-point shots at crucial moments. He also dished out seven assists and snagged five rebounds. However, we didn’t see Shannon’s takeover ability on display and his night was a quiet one against Northwestern.

Sencire Harris: F

Harris played erratic for the first time this season and was a major factor in Illinois’ second half slide. Harris was called for a technical foul, appearing to result from taunting. The Wildcats would then go on a game-ceiling 22-2 run, sending the Illini to 0-3 in conference play.

Harris couldn’t find any rhythm on offense, but that was a result from a lack of minutes on the court. Harris, known for his high motor and on-ball defense, picked up four fouls within the first six minutes of game time, and was a nonfactor — or a negative one — on nearly every facet.

Harris, who earned a second straight start, deserves a mulligan from Underwood and should continue to have a big role for the Illini. Bad games happen, and Harris’ may have tipped the game in favor of the Wildcats tonight — although the team’s overall inability to shoot should be the main culprit.

Matthew Mayer: B-

Mayer has a niche for stuffing the score sheets at times without actually providing Illinois a game changing performance for them to win the game. Mayer finished a solid 17 points, but where was Mayer when the Illini were victims of a 22-2 scoring run produced by the Wildcats?

Mayer’s past six performances have been his best offensively since being on campus, but the Illini are 3-3, with two of wins coming against Alabama A&M and Bethune-Cookman. Against Texas, Mayer started off hot, but went cold in the second half — as Shannon and Epps shouldered the offensive burden in the comeback victory.

However, regarding this game, Mayer did show confidence in pulling the trigger from the three-point line, and he did make three out of seven attempts. Mayer’s quick release was able to catch the Wildcats off guard at times, but Mayer hasn’t shown the ability to be able to help the Illini end scoring droughts.

One underrated aspect of his game today: he got to the line twice, and made all four of his free throw attempts.

Coleman Hawkins: C-

Hawkins is a victim of having an unusual role for a front court player and massive expectations. But Hawkins three-point shooting continues to halt Illinois’ ability to run an effective offense.

Hawkins finished two of six from the three, and he did make a very nice long ball in the second half. However, Hawkins also bricked a few of them, causing Underwood to nearly have a heart attack because of screaming during a timeout.

Hawkins will never be an inside threat, and fans will just have to accept it. However, while Hawkins’ inefficiency from the three hurts Illinois, so does Hawkins’ ball handling. He finished with three turnovers and had trouble holding onto the ball on numerous occasions. Hawkins is an athletic defensive threat, but his clumsiness on offense can make him a net-negative at times.

Dain Dainja: B

Dainja played his role well against the Wildcats, finishing the night just short of a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. The redshirt sophomore was one of Illinois’ more consistent performers on the night, shooting a respectable 4-6 from the field and recording three blocks in the paint. Additionally, while multiple Illini players found themselves in foul trouble throughout the contest, Dainja did not add to the headache and finished the game with only two fouls.

Dainja is continuing to play at a solid level and earned his second start for Illinois. In a game that saw a team of underperformers, the forward certainly shone brighter than his teammates. However, while Dainja was decent against an unranked Northwestern, there is still plenty of room to improve, especially if Illinois hopes to take down No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Jaden Epps: C+

Epps has embraced his role as Illinois’ alpha — regarding freshmen — when it comes to scoring. However, while it’s nice to see Epps showcase confidence, he has to become a more efficient shooter.

Or else Illinois is going to the NIT.

Epps finished today shooting five of 12 and missed 80% of his three point attempts. Epps did a good job of driving to the basket, either converting down low or finding an open man for good looks. While Epps is only a freshman, he needs to step it up, as Shannon and Hawkins — veterans who are used to being role players — have struggled to take charge on offense.

Fair? No, but the Illini have hit the fork in the road this season.

Skyy Clark: D

In his return from injury, Clark never looked comfortable during his 20 minutes on the floor against the Wildcats. Coming off the bench, the freshman guard was ineffective facilitating the offense and shot a poor 1-6 from the field, 0-3 from three. Clark recorded three rebounds and two assists but was powerless to turn the game around.

Whether or not Clark was still affected by his shoulder remains to be seen, but regardless it was an unconvincing showing as Illinois continues to search for a reliable point guard within the squad.

RJ Melendez: D

Melendez’s struggles in the scoring department continued against Northwestern. The sophomore was just another point of frustration for the Illini, as he scored a measly two points and committed three fouls. Melendez’s form in the last few games has taken a heavy hit, and he hasn’t been counted on to be a top contributor for Illinois offensively.

Melendez came off the bench for the second straight game, and his performance against the Wildcats hasn’t offered any justification to regaining a starting role in this team.

Ty Rodgers: N/A

Rodgers recorded one rebound in two minutes on the court.

 

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