Notes, player grades from Illinois men’s basketball’s double-overtime victory over Michigan

Guard+Terrence+Shannon+Jr.+gives+directions+to+the+rest+of+the+team+to+make+a+play+against+Michigan+on+Mar.+2.+On+Wednesday%2C+Shannon+announced+that+he+would+return+to+Champaign+for+one+more+season.

James Hoeck

Guard Terrence Shannon Jr. gives directions to the rest of the team to make a play against Michigan on Mar. 2. On Wednesday, Shannon announced that he would return to Champaign for one more season.

By James Kim, Drew Friberg and Carson Gourdie

It wasn’t pretty, but Illinois got it done on Thursday night. Despite leading by seven points in the last two minutes of regulation, Illinois needed two overtime periods to secure a 91-87 win and join six other teams in second place in the Big Ten.

Until overtime, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson was kept pretty quiet. But, when the competition gained six big points in OT, Illinois’ veterans rose to the occasion. It was a mature win, but one with so many things to learn from.

Melendez needs to perform

One of the biggest determinants of how far this team can go in March is RJ Melendez. The sophomore popped off for his best performance of the season thus far. He was fearless tonight and provided the best moment of the night when he put Dickinson on a poster.

More importantly though: he was efficient, in a way we haven’t seen from him before. He went 3-6 from the field but hit a huge three in crunch time, along with five points from the line. He was electric.

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    Every single one of his 12 points was big.

    Terrence Shannon Jr.: A

    Free. Throw. Master. Shannon was a machine against Michigan, driving to the rim and drawing fouls at crucial points in the game. He brought the energy in spades and continued to be explosive in transition. Despite not finding much success shooting from the field, the senior guard never lost confidence, charging the Wolverine defense at every given opportunity. On one possession, Shannon decided enough was enough and drove right at his marker, nearly posterizing Will Tschetter into the next century while drawing the foul in the process.

    The Chicago native finished the night with 21 points, 13 of them coming from the free throw line. 4-14 field goal shooting and 0-5 three-point shooting doesn’t get the job done, normally. However, Shannon impacted the game in more than just scoring, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. His free throws helped ice the game at the end of double overtime and again, Shannon’s ability to draw important fouls was key to unlocking a tricky game against a relentless opponent. 

    RJ Melendez: A

    Thursday night saw another top performance from Melendez. While there were stretches where the sophomore guard had little impact, he got hot at all the right moments. In addition to converting all five of his free throws, Melendez was a force late in the game. The Illini were aided by Melendez’s points in the final few minutes, including a huge three-point make that nearly brought the building down. 

    The highlight of the evening, however, was the sophomore guard’s two-handed slam. After pump-faking his marker and driving to the rim, Melendez caused State Farm Center to erupt as he rose and laid down a monster dunk on Dickinson. It was glorious.

    Matthew Mayer: A

    Pour yourself a celebratory Monster, Mr. Mayer.

    Recovering from a “caffeine overdose,” Matthew Mayer showcased no hangover, as the senior balanced offensive attack secured Illinois another win over Michigan. Finishing with a team-high 24 points, Mayer’s finest hour came in the 2nd overtime.

    Mayer knocked down a three-pointer, a mid-range jumper and a lay-up in the 2nd overtime, jumpstarting the sluggish Illini offense. Add in seven rebounds and a couple forced turnovers, and Mayer cemented a wonderful performance on Senior Day.

    Coleman Hawkins: A

    Coleman logged 49 minutes on Thursday night, and almost every single one was spent matched up with Dickinson.

    3-9 shooting for six points doesn’t seem great on the box score, but shutting down Dickinson in regulation while being active on the glass is a tough job. He was incredibly unlucky, and some questionable calls robbed him of more attractive stat line.

    He was truly playing top-level basketball, and Underwood leaving him in 49 minutes shows that.

    Dain Dainja: B

    Dainja was big on Thursday, in particular, before he had foul trouble. He was what kept the game close early, scoring on Dickinson pretty easily. He was defensively sound, and had a strong performance

    However, his effort waned as soon as he hit three fouls. Underwood did bench him after just 17 minutes, but he did just fine in that time.

    Ty Rodgers: A+

    There’s no beating around the bush for this one, Rodgers was excellent against Michigan. The freshman guard could do no wrong and finished the night with 14 points on impressive 6-9 shooting from the field. He was the glue-guy for the Illini, cleaning up in the paint while also crucially snagging seven rebounds during his 33 minutes on the floor. Rodgers flowed well offensively, moving the ball around and finding the open man. In addition to smart decision making, the Saginaw native understood when to pass the ball versus when to drive it in himself. Rodgers seems to get better and better every week, an increasingly positive sign with tournaments on the horizon.

    Luke Goode: C+

    Goode only played 12 minutes, but he was at the right place at the right time. Goode provided a quality effort on the boards, picking up four, and had a nice put-back layup. Four points isn’t prolific, but it’s good to see Goode play competent basketball when needed.

    Sencire Harris: C-

    Harris is a freshman, so I guess you can’t get too mad at inefficient shots and aggressive on-ball defense. Harris must be doing something right. As a freshman, he has earned significantly more playing time than Goode or Melendez did as rookies. However, while watching Epps shine on offense and watching Rodgers develop as a two-way threat, it makes you more critical of Harris.

    One of five shooting and three fouls is not an acceptable stat line. The dunk was amazing, and Harris can be a fireplug for an Illini team that falls asleep occasionally. But if this team wants an extended March, nitpicking is allowed. Harris needs to return to UCLA or Minnesota form.

    Jayden Epps: N/A

    Epps was recently hospitalized at Carle Hospital after an incident at practice, causing him to miss tonight’s game. His status is unclear, and we hope Epps has a speedy recovery.

     

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