The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

No. 25 Illinois menʼs basketball begins 2023-24 season with emphatic win over Eastern Illinois

James Hoeck
Guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn dunks the ball during the first half of Illinois game against Eastern Illinois on Monday night. The Illini’s first official game of the season resulted in a 80-52 victory against the Panthers.

It was a quick but eventful preseason for No. 25 Illinois menʼs basketball. Featuring two exhibition games against Ottawa and No. 1 Kansas, the Illini got their fair share of experience leading into the season opener against Eastern Illinois. Prior to Monday night, the Illini were undefeated through seven contests with the Panthers, a mark which improved to 8-0 thanks to a 80-52 showing to start the year.

Head coach Brad Underwoodʼs starting lineup saw no changes from the end of preseason, with senior forward Coleman Hawkins and graduate forward Quincy Guerrier holding down the front court alongside fifth-year guard Terrence Shannon Jr., sophomore guard Ty Rodgers and graduate guard Marcus Domask.

Eastern Illinois came down with the tipoff, but was held scoreless on its first three possessions by the Illini. During that time, Rodgers started things off on the offensive end with a strong finish in transition. Things got sloppy for Illinois from there as allowing offensive rebounds became a theme for several minutes on end.

The Illini fell behind by as much as nine points while the Panthers were capitalizing on these errors. Junior guard Luke Goode was first off the bench and he gave the Illini a breath of fresh air when they needed it most, hitting a three which halted the ever-growing Panther lead (15-9).

Redshirt junior center Dain Dainja followed this up with some nifty post moves that earned Illinois its first consecutive points of the game. But the true game changer for the Illini was freshman guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, who got the State Farm Center on its feet several time in the ensuing minutes.

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It began with an electric block for the Indiana native, which nearly led to a dunk for Rodgers but that was snuffed out by the Eastern Illinois defense.

On the other end, an Eastern player got Shannon off his feet with a pump fake but on his way down still managed to strip the ball away. Despite Shannon missing the transition layup, Gibbs-Lawhorn was right where he needed to be for a putback slam. Less than 30 seconds later, Gibbs-Lawhorn continued to flash his energizing style of play with a game tying layup before blowing the roof off with a go-ahead dunk (21-19).

The Panthers battled back and kept it close for a couple more possessions, but a flurry of offense from the Illini solidified the change in momentum. Entering halftime, the Illini led by a game-high 12 points (37-25) thanks to a last second three by their leading scorer, Shannon (9).

To the relief of a packed home crowd who had to endure 12 minutes of trailing in the first half, Illinois did not let off the gas coming out of the break. Shannon added to his point total with a pair of quick baskets while Rodgers dropped in a layup of his own to make it a 7-0 opening run.

Gibbs-Lawhorn entered with 15:44 remaining in the half and got right back to where he left off. His first basket came off an offensive rebound and finish over the opposing paint defenders before drilling a turnaround shot from the midrange on his next trip down.

The icing on the cake came on Illinoisʼ next offensive possession, where a kickout pass found Gibbs-Lawhorn and he cashed in from several feet behind the arc (55-31).

The Illini coasted from there, with the only element still in the air being whether Gibbs-Lawhorn or Shannon would finish as the leading scorer. Ultimately, Illinois claimed a comfortable 80-52 victory with Gibbs-Lawhornʼs 18 points leading the way.

With regards to Illinois’ slow start, Shannon took full responsibility and assured that such a start will not be seen in Illinois’ meeting with Oakland on Friday.

“I just got to do a better job of getting the team ready,” said Shannon. “I could have been better for us at the beginning too, bringing energy. It all falls back on me… I got to do a better job leading the guys and it will be different against Oakland.”



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About the Contributors
Conor Blount
Conor Blount, Senior Sports Reporter
My name is Conor Blount. I’m a junior in aerospace engineering with a minor in computer science. I joined The Daily Illini in the summer of 2022 as a beat writer for the sports section and am now one of three assistant sports editors. My first beat was women’s tennis before I moved to women’s basketball in the spring. I also had the pleasure of covering several former Illini at the 2023 NFL draft and NBA summer league. If you have any questions, I can be reached at the email below.
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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