Player grades from Illinois’ second loss of season to Penn State


Sidney Malone

Guard/Forward Ty Rodgers takes on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at State Farm Center on January 31, 2023. Despite losing to Penn State Rodgers played significantly well on Tuesday.

By Drew Friberg, James Kim and Carson Gourdie

This is now the second time that Illinois’ momentum has been stunted by the Jalen Pickett party from University Park.

In December, Illinois came out flat and never really got going. Andrew Funk and Myles Dread couldn’t miss from beyond the arc, and started the first half each 5-5. In the replay of the Nittany Lions’ blowout victory, they did it again, in an even more frustrating way — simply outscoring Illinois.

In a fast-paced bout which at times seemingly had no defensive presence on the floor, the Lions’ success begs the question: Have they figured the Illini out?

Coleman Hawkins: C+

Coleman put up some points on Tuesday, which his team desperately needed in its attempt to keep up with the Pickett Party, but the all-around play we’ve started to see from Coleman over the past few weeks just wasn’t all there.

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He was decent off the glass with five rebounds, but his presence on defense needed to be felt a bit more. Somebody needed to step up, and although Coleman was one of the best Illini on the floor, by now we have seen what he is capable of.

Dain Dainja: C-

Dainja was a bit of a nonfactor in a game where he had the opportunities to shine. Turning the ball over a team-high two times isn’t exactly what you want from someone claiming to be one of the best bigs in the Big Ten after last match.

One big positive was his free throw shooting. Going 3-3 from the line is something to look forward to in future matches.

Terrence Shannon Jr.: B

While Shannon’s aggressiveness in driving to the rim was on display, he couldn’t get much to fall. 5-14 shooting from the field isn’t going to get it done, but the Chicago native still got to 20 points thanks to his 9-10 free throw shooting. On a night where the Illini lacked consistent offensive threats, Shannon did stand out, particularly near the end where he scored nine straight points in an attempt to dig the visitors out of the deficit.

Ty Rodgers: A+

Rodgers played exceptionally well against Penn State and was a high point amidst the loss. Coming off the bench, the freshman was given a larger role than normal and played 25 minutes on the floor. Rodgers’ energy and aggression nearly landed him a double-double, with the guard scoring 11 points on 5-6 shooting from the field and recording eight assists on the night. It’s been great to see Rodgers’ confidence on the court growing as we near the postseason.

RJ Melendez: N/A

Played three minutes and shot 1-1 from beyond the arc.

Sencire Harris: C-

Harris was very quiet on offense, and he struggled to make an impact on defense. Harris, finishing with zero points, has become a nonfactor often, and he hasn’t been able to make a leap like Ty Rodgers, who found success at the rim tonight. 

On defense, Harris’ on-ball defense was mediocre, and he picked up three fouls in just 13 minutes of play. While Harris is not the reason why they lost, he wasn’t able to generate any positives tonight. 

Matthew Mayer: C+

Mayer had another game where his shooting wasn’t too inefficient; however, his numbers came in low volume. 

Mayer finished with 11 points on only six field goal attempts, albeit he was able to generate attempts at the charity stripe. However, like Epps, Mayer seem focused from the perimeter and didn’t test the Nittany Lions inside as much as he should’ve. Two of five from deep is nothing to scoff at, but Mayer’s attempts seemed hasty at times. 

Jayden Epps: C

Epps was 6-6 inside the arc, and he was 0-7 from behind the arc. 

Epps has consistently found success when he attacks the rim, but he still has a tendency to settle from deep. Epps is now 5 of 34 from the three-point line over the last seven games. Add in the fact that he finished with zero assists, Epps underachieved on offense tonight. 

On defense, Epps was exposed by Pickett, who carries a couple inches and 20 pounds over the freshman. Epps on-ball defense was not strong, especially down low, and there was really no answer on how to counter Pickett’s career night.  


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