Shannon catapults Illinois men’s basketball past No. 21 Northwestern

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James Hoeck

Guard Terrance Shannon Jr. walks the court during the start of the second half of the game against Northwestern last evening. After an earlier injury leaving Shannon away from the court for the past two matches, Shannon came back swinging to defeat Northwestern this Thursday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

All it takes to reverse one bad half is one good half.

In its rematch against in-state rivals No. 21 Northwestern, Illinois played out one of the most disappointing first periods of basketball in 2022-23. The team only managed 19 points to the visitor’s 37, and despite a healthy roster that saw the return of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr., the offensive flow was nowhere to be found.

“Unique first half,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Not only did I think we lacked physical effort, but I don’t know if I can remember a time here where our mental breakdowns were that dramatic.”

Watching Boo Buie score 22 points and witnessing Illinois shooting 0-11 from three all resulted in an extremely muted State Farm Center heading into halftime. That’s when things changed.

The lackluster Illini group that headed into the locker rooms was replaced by a team ready to fight. As both squads came back onto the court for the start of the second half, Illinois emerged as a pack spearheaded by an in-form Shannon.

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    Shannon had missed the last two games due to concussion protocol and in his return against the Wildcats, he scored a measly two points in the first half. However, the Chicago native kicked it into high gear and steamrolled the Northwestern defense late in the contest.

    “That was UCLA Terrence, that was early season Terrence,” Underwood said. “I had no idea what to expect, I had no idea pregame if he was going to play. I usually don’t start guys that have been out for a week or longer, so he came off the bench and I thought his defense on (Audige) was every bit as good as his offense. He’s an all-league caliber player and he rose to that occasion tonight and we needed every point and every defensive effort.”

    Shannon took over in the second half and was unstoppable in driving to the rim, drawing six fouls in the process. With the Illini finding themselves down by 18 points, Shannon’s late 4-4 shooting from beyond the arc was pivotal in cutting down the Wildcats’ lead.

    As he continues to prove his status as a current NBA prospect, Shannon’s ability to step up in big moments was a highlight of the night. Teammates such as freshman guard Ty Rodgers made one thing very clear when playing alongside a red-hot Shannon.

    “Get him the ball and get out of the way,” Rodgers said. “That’s about it, man. When (Shannon’s) going, it’s special to see. It’s something different, something I’ve never seen before. Just get him the ball and get out of the way. If (Northwestern) shoots it, try to get the rebound and get it back to him.”

    Northwestern’s defense couldn’t find an answer to stopping Shannon’s explosive offense and over the final ten minutes, Illinois had outscored the visitors 27-8 to clinch the four-point victory. While most of the attention will shine on the Chicago native’s ability on the ball, his focus was on the other end of the court.

    “Our defense was all I thought about,” Shannon said. “Whether it went our way or not, we just had to get stops and I kept telling our teammates that. I knew if we got stops we would win the game.”

    This wasn’t the first time this season that the Illini had been down by a significant margin but managed to battle out a win. Despite Illinois’ dominant history against Northwestern, Thursday night’s triumph was special, and a statement victory to the rest of the conference. As a veteran on the team, Shannon’s subscription to the program’s winning mentality has to be a staple for Illinois as the postseason draws ever closer.

    “Coach Brad built a culture within our team to never give up,” Shannon said. “As hard as he coaches us, we have his back and none of us like to lose. No matter what the deficit is, we’re gonna try to come back and win the game. We always believe we’re in the game until the buzzer goes off. It’s a big time win for us in bringing us closer together to go on a run in March.”

     

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