Illinois men’s basketball bounces back in Champaign with 78-69 victory over Minnesota

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James Hoeck

Guard/Forward Matthey Mayer slips through Minnesota’s defense around the start of the second half of tonight’s game. Mayer led the Illini with constant scores against Minnesota bouncing back from the defeat by Indiana on Saturday for the Illini.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

Despite suffering a heartbreaking three-point loss to No. 14 Indiana on the road previously, Illinois bounced back in its return to State Farm Center and downed Minnesota 78-69 on Monday night.

Senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. was ruled out due to concussion for the second-straight game, leading head coach Brad Underwood to start the same way as against Indiana previously. Freshman guard Jayden Epps, sophomore guard RJ Melendez, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja all took the floor to start for the Illini.

While the Illini have been susceptible to slow shooting starts, this was not the case on Monday. Mayer got Illinois going early, scoring the team’s first four points of the contest. The Illini dominated the opening 10 minutes, with Mayer, Epps and Dainja paving the way offensively. Dainja lit up State Farm Center with a quick spin around his marker before drawing the and-one play.

Illinois led 19-8 at the 10:01 mark before things began to slow down offensively. Despite solid defensive play, a 3:35 scoring drought allowed the Golden Gophers to cut the Illini’s lead to five with 6:53 remaining in the half.

Dainja eventually ended the drought after slamming home a very contested two-handed slam, sparking renewed energy back into the team. A three-point make from Hawkins followed by a powerful dunk from Melendez fired Illinois to a 7-0 run shortly after.

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However, the momentum didn’t last, as the Golden Gophers responded with an 8-1 run over their own. With under a minute to go, Minnesota had cut Illinois’ lead to just three before Hawkins nailed one last three-pointer before the buzzer.

Heading into the break, the Illini held a 35-29 advantage.

Epps came out firing in the second half, scoring eight straight points on two triples and a layup. The Golden Gophers began building a short scoring run before Mayer struck back with five straight points of his own.

The Illini and the Golden Gophers went back and forth over the next couple of minutes. Illinois’ scoring was coming purely from Mayer, Hawkins and Dainja as the team struggled to get going on a serious scoring run.

With just over eight minutes remaining, Epps and Mayer scored back-to-back triples to boost the Illini to a 15-point lead at 62-47. State Farm Center was given a scare when Dainja suffered a hard fall at the 6:15 mark, but the forward returned to play and shot 2-2 from the line.

Despite some error-filled play near the end, Illinois managed to close out the final five minutes against the visitors. Fans were treated to back-to-back-to-back dunks from Mayer, Melendez and Hawkins as the Illini ran away with the game for a 78-69 finish.

Illinois will be back in action on Thursday, as it prepares to welcome rivals Northwestern to Champaign.

 

@james_kim15

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