Illinois overcomes 18-point deficit to knock off No. 21 Northwestern


James Hoeck

Guard Terrance Shannon Jr. rushes to recover the ball after a missed shot by Northwestern during the second half. During tonight’s head-to-head game Shannon was able to pull through during the second half to recover the match and win.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Illinois blew Windy City’s Big Ten team away in the second half of Thursday night’s bout, overcoming a 18 point deficit on its way to defending State Farm Center from its in-state rivals.

Senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. was labeled as questionable earlier on Thursday, and remained on the bench to start. His exclusion paved the way for sophomore guard RJ Melendez to work his way back into the lineup, while starting alongside freshman guard Jayden Epps, fifth-year senior forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore Dain Dainja. As a unit, these five scored just 28 of Illinois’ points on the night, with Mayer contributing to half of those.

The opening few minutes proved frustrating for Illinois. Northwestern’s Robbie Beran kicked off the scoring with a highly contested three, and the rest of the Wildcats soon hit two more. The Illini’s shots just wouldn’t fall apart from Melendez’s early drive to the rim. Mayer’s game high two turnovers in the first four minutes proved costly.

Although Shannon checked in for the first time around five minutes in, shots from beyond the arc continued to brick. However, on with Shannon came freshmen Ty Rodgers and Sencire Harris. After the freshmen took the floor, a Northwestern four minute scoring drought ensued while Illinois clawed its way back to even at 14-14 with some gritty plays at the rim.

As soon as the Illini’s momentum began, it faded. Northwestern’s Boo Buie hit two three pointers in a row and picked up a layup before Illinois scored a single point, ripping his jersey somewhere in that stretch. The Wildcat star ended the half with 22 points, more than the entire Illinois lineup.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Aside from Harris putting his man on a poster, the Orange Krush didn’t have much to cheer about for the rest of the half. Shannon picked up his third foul in the last three minutes of the half and Northwestern’s lead extended to double digits. The half ended 37-19 in Northwestern’s favor with the Illini in foul trouble, Mayer on 0 points and 25% shooting as a team.

The Wildcats ended the half shooting 50% from three to Illinois’ 0%. It looked like a done and dusted affair at the half.

When Brad Underwood made his way back to the court with steam coming out of his ears, it was clear that his halftime team talk worked did what he intended it to. Both Shannon and Mayer came out of the gates hitting the first two threes for Illinois on the night. Additionally, Mayer took a trip to the line after a three and sunk all of them. Illinois started the half on a 13-0 run over a six minute stretch. Northwestern on the other hand was scoreless from the field over that same stretch apart from a Buie bucket early on.

A notable omission from the floor early on in the second half was Dainja, who Underwood was clearly unhappy with in the first half. He checked in for the first time with 12:03 remaining after the Wildcats responded with a 10-0 run over just two minutes and he did not come back in after leaving the game two minutes later.

Shannon was a force to be reckoned with in the second half, dropping 24 points, compared to his first half tally of two. He outscored Buie in the second half — something he could have only dreamed of after the earlier 20 minutes.

Harris getting put on Buie was what really changed the game, though, as Buie’s open looks dwindled in number in the moments Harris was guarding him. Although not showing it necessarily in the stats, Harris was one of the keys to Illinois’ comeback.

Shannon poked a ball free and took it to the rim for two, bringing the game back to a one possession game. With three minutes remaining, Harris drove to the basket and found two, bringing the game level for the first time since it started. After Mayer went to the line just a minute later, Illinois regained the lead, 61-59 with 2:37 remaining.

With 42 seconds left on the clock and a 63-62 lead, Illinois called a timeout, working it to Hawkins for an open three. He missed, but Mayer pulled down the rebound after the Illini burned 20 seconds off the clock.

On the ensuing inbound, Shannon was fouled and sent to the line to shoot two, putting the game out of reach and completing the comeback, crowning Illinois the champions of this rivalry match iteration.

After winning 66-62, Illinois is on the road in just two days time to Columbus, Ohio for its next match against the Ohio State Buckeyes.




[email protected]