Illinois men’s basketball outlasts No. 24 Rutgers with strong second half


Sidney Malone

Junior forward Coleman Hawkins jumps for the ball during the game against Rutgers on Saturday. After a staunch turnaround during the second half, Illinois came out ahead, with a final score of 69-60.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Illinois’ shooting was awful in the first 20 minutes of its bout with No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday. However, a 19-0 run over 10 minutes put the game out of reach for the ranked Scarlet Knights, as the Illini successfully defended their home court, winning 69-60 after two completely different halves of basketball.

Freshman guard Jayden Epps has protected his starting spot in recent weeks after continuing to be a scoring threat. He was joined against the Scarlet Knights by the usual other four: senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., junior forward Coleman Hawkins, fifth-year senior Matthew Mayer and redshirt sophomore Dain Dainja.

Rutgers exploded out of the gates, going on a 11-2 run after Illinois’ first two buckets. The Illini’s defense began adapting and forcing stops, but every rebound seemed to fall in the hands of Rutgers’ Clifford Omoruyi, who had five rebounds after the first five minutes. He had four offensive rebounds while Illinois had just two defensive rebounds.

After six minutes of play, the Illinois faithful erupted despite being down 13-8. Sophomore guard Luke Goode subbed in, making his first appearance of the season.

Freshman forward Ty Rodgers checked in to try and help alleviate the early rebounding woes, but grabbed two fouls in the process. His aggression at the rim awarded his team just two points in his short stint on the court, but it paved the way for more inside scoring for the Illini.

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With 8:13 remaining in the half, the Illini were 0-6 from beyond the arc. But, even with this imperfect shooting, Illinois was down just 23-17. Dainja’s success inside brought Omoruyi to pick up his second foul of the half, and Rutgers’ paint presence dwindled greatly.

The three finally came for Illinois from an unlikely hero in Sencire Harris at 4:19. His three pointer cut the Scarlet Knight lead to just three and Rutgers was forced to use a timeout.

After a free-throw make by Shannon and a bucket by Rutgers to end the half, the Scarlet Knights led 34-30 at the break. The Illini shot 8% from three in the first half, only having Harris’ three to show for their 12 attempts. While struggling on outside shooting, however, Dainja’s inside scoring brought Illinois a team-high 11 points.

The second half was the complete opposite of the first.

Shannon’s first three fell at 17:15 in the second half. After a quiet first half, he doubled his point tally with that one bucket. The Rutgers lead was whittled down to just three once again. Shannon began to heat up at this point.

Two possessions ended in turnovers due to Rutgers’ full court press, but Shannon’s third block of the day made sure just one of those ended in a Rutgers score. Hawkins’ three on the resulting possession kept the bout a one-possession game.

Hawkins’ putback at 12:22 granted Illinois its first lead since 6-5 in the first minutes of the game. Now up 48-47 courtesy of an efficient half from Hawkins, Illinois’ afternoon became a whole lot easier.

Illinois went on a 19-0 run over 10 straight minutes with little effort needed on defense, putting the Illini up 60-47 for the biggest lead of the game. Rodgers’ five huge rebounds over this stretch kept the ball in Illini hands, and his presence alongside Dainja kept Omoruyi out of the game after picking up four fouls. This 10 minute stretch of Illinois dominance took Illinois clear for the remainder of the game.

Illinois’ lead ended up being good enough to see out the win, 69-60. A group effort in the paint and on the boards led the way in the second half, as Illinois ended the game with 40 rebounds and 55% of points coming in the paint.

Next up for Illinois is a rematch against Penn State in University Park on Tuesday, as the Illini look to split the season series with a win.



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