Illinois men’s basketball unable to overtake Ohio State, falls 72–60


James Hoeck

Forward Coleman Hawkins after a missed shot by the Illini during the first half of Thursday night’s game against Northwestern. Struggling with offense, the Illini fell to Ohio State on Sunday.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

With much left to play for this regular season, Illinois men’s basketball took a trip to Columbus for a Sunday afternoon rematch against Ohio State. Although a balanced offense boosted Illinois to a 69–60 victory in late January, that was the furthest from what occurred this time around. Illinois struggled to get stops and despite putting up a strong fight in the second half, Ohio State pulled away for a final score of 72–60.

A monster 26-point performance off the bench in senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr’s return from concussion protocol added even more credence to his inevitable return to the starting lineup against the Buckeyes. Starting alongside Shannon was freshman guard Jayden Epps, fifth-year forward Matthew Mayer, junior forward Coleman Hawkins and redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja.

Illinois came down with the tipoff and generated a decent three point look for Mayer, but unfortunately his shot hit the front of the rim and bounced out. On the defensive end, Dainja’s quick hands resulted in a steal that gave Mayer another opportunity from deep, which he capitalized on to give the Illini a 3–0 edge. Hawkins dropped in a nifty transition layup to increase the lead to five, but the Buckeyes responded with an 8–0 run to flip the game in their favor.

Freshman guard Ty Rodgers dumped the ball off to Hawkins who knocked in a deep three to tie the game at 8–8, but Illinois’ offense went stagnant from there. Giving up another eight-point swing (9–1) forced head coach Brad Underwood to take a timeout with 11:54 remaining.

After regrouping, Illinois was still struggling on offense and had given up another layup on the defensive end when sophomore guard RJ Melendez decided to push the tempo on the fast break for a thunderous slam (19–11). Still struggling to get stops, Illinois gave up another mini 7–3 run before Hawkins injected some spirit into the Illini with an electrifying and-one poster dunk (26–16).

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Unfortunately for Illinois, there was no turning point. Ohio State continued to get points at will and although Illinois’ offense caught up for a streak of four made field goals in a row, it was no match for the output on the other end. For the second game in a row the Illini found themselves behind by a wide margin going into halftime, requiring a significant second half swing if they wanted any chance of overcoming Ohio State’s 41–29 edge.

To start the second half, Illinois did a good job preventing the Buckeyes from increasing their lead any further, but was struggling to make a significant dent into the lead as the lead was still 10 points going into the first media break. However, Shannon seemingly flipped a switch in the second half once again, getting back-to-back and-one layups to bring Illinois within four points (45–41).

Ohio State brought its edge back up to six for a short while, but consistent stops from the Illini along with back-to-back layups from freshman guard Sincere Harris and Mayer put Illinois within just one possession (49–47). Continuing to knock on the door, Illinois cut the lead to one point after Epps flared to the corner for an open three pointer but the Buckeyes responded with a sucker punch, scoring six uninterrupted points to take a 59–52 lead.

With limited time remaining, this gap proved too large for Illinois to overcome. Finishing with a final score of 72–60, Illinois dropped to 19–10 on the season and 10–8 against Big Ten opponents.

Illinois men’s basketball will be back in action this Thursday at 6 p.m., hosting Michigan for its final home game of the season.



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