Player grades from Illinois men’s basketball’s win over Minnesota


Sidney Malone

Junior forward Coleman Hawkins and senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. cheer during the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 7.

By Drew Friberg and Carson Gourdie

Illinois now boasts a winning record in conference for the first time this season. Now at 4-3, Brad Underwood is finding it much easier to flex his muscles and get the best out of his players. With star transfers like Matthew Mayer now consistently showing up while freshmen begin to find their feet, winning in conference has become the norm again.

While some flourished on Monday, some consistent performers took a bit of a dip in form. Games like these are crucial to learn from if you’re Underwood.

Terrence Shannon Jr.: B-

Shannon suffers from his own success sometimes.

After a three game stretch of monstrous performances, he shot 2-12 on Monday, but managed to get to the line enough that he ended with 11. Other than scoring, he played a pretty good match. He got the ball to his teammates who were firing, picking up four assists and also grabbing four rebounds on the evening.

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He’s on a good run and playing fundamentally good basketball, rather than chucking up shots and hoping they fall. It will be interesting to see what a night like this would have turned into had more shots fallen.

Coleman Hawkins: D+

Perhaps a D+ is too harsh, but, as a veteran, Coleman has to make it easier on his inexperienced guys. He was honestly unlucky to get into bad foul trouble early, as one of his two first half fouls was bogus. But, after subbing back in during the second half, he picked up two more fouls, playing just 11 minutes of the second half.

In 17 minutes on the court totall, he played timid. He chucked up just two shot attempts and grabbed four boards. In 17 minutes, that’s all he was able to do.

Dain Dainja: B+

If Hawkins has points deducted for foul trouble, it’s only fair if the same goes for Dainja.

Dainja played a very mature game otherwise, and fans finally saw what a consistent scorer Dainja can be. 11 points is nowhere near his best tally, but it was moreso the variety of shots he was scoring. He went both ways, even finishing through contact and getting to the line a few times.

One thing he really needs to hone in on in coming matches is free throws. Finishing through contact is a great asset to have, but if you can’t reliably finish off three-point plays, it becomes a much less admirable trait.

RJ Melendez: B-

Melendez, like Ty Rodgers, was all over the place. His hustle on defense helps bail out Illinois’ defense and runs time off the clock in the second half. His presence is much needed on the court. But, if he is going to take as many shots as he does, he needs to finish them more.

With players like Sencire Harris who offer similar defensive hustle, his shot choice reflects his ability to reliably make them. Harris shot 1-2 from three. RJ shot 1-5.

Brandon Lieb: A

Mr. Lieb is full of surprises. 

Plagued by front-court foul trouble, Lieb was subbed in and played exceptionally well considering the circumstances. He finished with 4 points on 2-3 shooting, two rebounds and a block. While the Illini couldn’t count on dominant scoring, Lieb performed well defensively and helped the Illini not lose ground early. 

Lieb won’t have too many relevant performances again, but today, he showed Illini fans that he can play with purpose. 

Ty Rodgers: A

Ty Rodgers has continued to play better since Skyy Clark’s break from the team, and he showcased some life on offense tonight. Rodgers finished with eight points, missing only one shot attempt. Rodgers also performed well on the boards, picking up seven rebounds. While Rodgers can’t be labeled a bucket, it was encouraging to see him attack the rim. 

Sencire Harris: A

Harris has been labeled as a shooting liability for most of the season. But another facet that’s been lacking: his ability to facilitate the basketball. 

Today, however, Harris changed that narrative. 

Harris scored seven points — making a three-point shot — and finished with three assists. Harris did a good job of not forcing shots until garbage time. Add in eight rebounds, and Harris perfected his role tonight. 

Matthew Mayer: A

Mayer continues to play at a high level, and he was probably the player of the game again. Mayer scored 19 points and made over 50% of his attempts. His size was too much for the Gophers, resulting in him bullying them in the paint like what I expected from Shannon.

But his perimeter shot separates him from Shannon, as Mayer made three shots beyond the arc. 

Mayer also grabbed 10 rebounds, helping the Illini overcome the loss of Shannon, Dainja and Hawkins late in the first half.

Is it fair to say Mayer has shed off his early season slumps for good? 

Jayden Epps: B+

Steady game from Epps, but he didn’t have a dominant presence. He finished with 10 points on 5-9 shooting, but he only recorded a single assist and picked up four fouls. While Epps led the freshmen in points, it appeared that Rodgers and Harris both outperformed him today — which is not common. 

Brad Underwood should pat himself of the back for his recruiting efforts. 


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