Illinois men’s basketball upsets No. 14 Wisconsin 79-69 for first Big Ten victory of 2022-23

Illinois+Fighting+Illini+basketball+takes+on+the+Wisconsin+Badgers+at+State+Farm+Center+on+January+7%2C+2023.

Sidney Malone

Illinois Fighting Illini basketball takes on the Wisconsin Badgers at State Farm Center on January 7, 2023.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini needed a big turnaround following the loss to the Northwestern Wildcats previously. They faced a tall task in welcoming the 14th-best team in the country to State Farm Center just three days later.

In a huge clash between the two 2022 Big Ten Champions, Illinois men’s basketball prevailed, downing No. 14 Wisconsin in Champaign for its first Big Ten win of 2022-23.

“To say (the win) was needed and felt good was probably the understatement of the day,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “You fight for your culture and your identity as to what you stand for. This team has been elite defensively and that’s a really good offensive team. We’ve been fighting, competing on that end of the court, making mistakes and so on and so forth. Yet I think we’re continuing to build off what we do defensively. Today, offensively, we trusted and we believed.”

Underwood made no changes to the starting five against the Badgers, with senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., freshman guard Sencire Harris, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore Dain Dainja taking the floor. With freshman guard Skyy Clark taking a break from basketball indefinitely, Illinois was missing one of its primary point guards. Wisconsin, on the other hand, was missing its leading scorer Tyler Wahl due to injury.

The opening five minutes were less than stellar for the Illini, as the team shot a mere 28.6% from the field to open the game. The Badgers continued to snag points in the paint and found themselves up 11-6 with 13:16 to go in the first period.

Shannon was a pivotal presence for Illinois early on and prevented Wisconsin from pulling away on the scoreboard. The Chicago native stepped up and brought the offensive fire, shooting 4-5 from the field to keep the Illini in the game.

Illinois gained its first lead of the night with 9:44 remaining in the first, as freshman guard Jayden Epps struck from beyond the arc. The advantage didn’t last long, however, as Wisconsin clawed its way back after back-to-back buckets.

The final five minutes of the first period were tightly fought. The Badgers were unable to build a significant lead after coming up against a tenacious Illini defense, and the home side enjoyed an 11-0 run. After a three-pointer from Hawkins, sophomore guard RJ Melendez tied the contest at 24-24 with a midrange jumper.

Shortly after, Epps nailed a huge three-point attempt to give the Illini a 27-24 lead. Hawkins built upon the momentum with yet another triple, extending Illinois’ advantage to six.

A three point make from Max Klesmit reduced the gap, but the Illini headed into halftime up 30-27 against the Badgers.

Mayer opened the scoring for Illinois with a tight finish in the paint coming out of the break. The Illini’s momentum carried into the first five minutes as State Farm Center erupted after a two-handed dunk from Shannon and another three from Hawkins. Illinois found itself with a 37-30 lead early in the second period.

Shannon and Hawkins combined to score two straight triples, with the Illini up by thirteen. Wisconsin suffered a 3:46 scoring drought as Illinois enjoyed another 11-0 run.

With 14:48 left in the contest, the Badgers began heating up and got a quick 6-0 scoring run going. Mayer and Dainja responded to give the Illini a 47-38 advantage at the 11:51 mark.

Everything was going right for Illinois late in the game, both offensively and defensively. Hawkins continued to be a threat from beyond the arc, finishing the game with a career-high six made three-pointers.

“If we set good screens and got downhill in our actions, I knew that I’d be available to pop,” Hawkins said. “They’ve been harping on me to stop pump faking it and ‘shoot it, shoot it.’ I’ve been in the gym working on my catch and shoot threes, so I felt more comfortable out there shooting it.”

Shannon finished the game as the team’s top scorer with 24 points, with Hawkins’ 20 points taking a close second place.

“I feel like we’re gonna win every game,” Shannon said. “I know we were 0-3 (in the conference) and we dug ourselves in a hole, so I felt like this was a must-win game for us. We practiced hard, stayed together and we got going.”

By the end of regulation, the Illini had topped ranked Badgers by a sound 79-69 scoreline. With the statement victory, the Illini are now 10-5 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play.

Now with some wind in its sails, Illinois will be back on the road to take on Nebraska next Tuesday.

 

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