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

Notes, player grades from Illinois’ season-opening 28-point victory over Eastern Illinois

James Hoeck
Forward Dain Dainja during the first half Illinois exhibition match against Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2023. The first half of the game ended in a score of 59 for Illinois and 9 for Ottawa.

No. 25 Illinois men’s basketball kicked off its 2023-24 campaign with an 80-52 win over in-state opponents Eastern Illinois on Monday in Champaign. Despite a slow start to the game, the Illini managed to recover and overcome an early deficit to earn a 28-point win, sparked in large part by freshman guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn’s energy off the bench.

Slow start, poor shooting remedied by the rise of Gibbs-Lawhorn

Illinois never should’ve had to dig itself out of a hole against a team like Eastern Illinois, yet that’s exactly what happened on Monday night. A major issue with the Illini last season was starting games slowly and suffering stretches of poor shooting, both of which were present against the Panthers. The first 10 minutes consisted of sloppy passes, careless ball handling and a frustrating lack of finishing, particularly from the free throw line and from beyond the arc.

However, the introduction of Gibbs-Lawhorn off the bench rejuvenated Illinois, as the guard managed to claw the team back in front on his official debut. The freshman dropped 18 points on efficient 7-10 shooting from the field, and his fast pace combined with an ability to knock down the big shots woke the Illini from their slumber. While Illinois dominated on the scoreboard, it was the newcomer that ignited the team’s performance.

Illinois’ starting five players are indicated with *.

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* Terrence Shannon Jr. (A-)

While it was a quieter night by Shannon’s standards, the fifth-year guard still managed to shine as one of the Illini’s best players on the court. Scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds, Shannon and Gibbs-Lawhorn complimented one another well in the quest to boost Illinois out of its initial slump.

Shannon hit 5-10 attempts from the field and 3-7 from three. However, the usually strong free throw shooter only knocked down 3-8 of his attempts from the line. That being said, Shannon still played a significant role in the victory and was able to find buckets at crucial points in the contest when the Illini truly needed them.

* Ty Rodgers (B)

Rodgers totaled just 16 minutes on the floor in this game but was impactful during that time. Much like his performance against No. 1 Kansas, Rodgers was the first Illini to score after the team came up empty on their first few possessions. That early offensive outburst was even more critical when considering how stagnant the rest of the team was but he was also a part of a starting lineup that reeled in just one total offensive rebound. This is something Illinois has been trying to emphasize this season, which might have contributed to the low number of minutes.

* Marcus Domask (B-)

Domask’s official debut in an Illini jersey wasn’t the best, but was also not the worst. The Southern Illinois transfer only shot 2-8 from the field but also managed to grab four rebounds and record three assists against the Panthers. It was an underwhelming performance considering the forward was given the most minutes out of the entire roster, but Domask’s presence on the floor didn’t hurt the Illini. He also dished out a great full-court pass to assist a big dunk from Gibbs-Lawhorn.

* Quincy Guerrier (B)

The incredible foul-drawing ability that Guerrier displayed against Kansas was not present today, but 10 free throw attempts in every game is hardly a realistic expectation. He dropped both of his shots from inside the arc, both of which were impressive. The first featured an ankle-breaking pump fake which led to a tough finish over a shifting defender while the second was an emphatic baseline dunk. His night behind the arc left a lot to be desired (0-3), but it’s hard to poke holes in a plus-13 performance.

* Coleman Hawkins (C-)

Of all the starters whose playtime suffered from a poor night on the boards, Hawkins was the most impacted. He spent 14 minutes on the floor and totaled just one point from the free-throw line. His two field goal attempts were from behind the arc and came a bit early in the shot clock, something that would not matter if they went in but neither did. As a starter and someone who is looked to as one of Illinois’ best players, Hawkins’ performance was underwhelming, to say the least.

Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn (A+)

If there is one player who completely changed the first-half tempo for Illinois, it was Gibbs-Lawhorn. Each of his team-high 18 points was incredibly valuable and came at crucial junctures of the game and he even found ways to impress on the defensive end. Just minutes after checking in, Gibbs-Lawhorn got the crowd on its feet with a massive block and returned the favor tenfold on his next stint. Three consecutive baskets within less than a minute gave Illinois its first lead since the start of the game, a lead which was held onto until the final buzzer.

Luke Goode (A)

Much like Gibbs-Lawhorn, Goode was a huge plus off the bench for Illinois. He played in 19 minutes and knocked down three of five shots from downtown, his first of which was immediately after first checking in and helped stave off a game-high nine-point Eastern Illinois lead. His effort on the defensive end was also very strong, picking up six rebounds which was second only to Hansberry (7). As far as sharpshooting performances off the bench are concerned, it doesn’t get much better than Goode’s night against the Panthers.

Amani Hansberry (A)

Hansberry certainly made the most of his 14 minutes on the floor, recording seven points on efficient 2-3 shooting from the field and from the free throw line. However, the highlight of the freshman’s night was in the rebounding department. Hansberry was a dominant physical presence on the floor, recording eight rebounds on his official debut. The forward wasn’t afraid to battle in the paint, and it was a very encouraging showing from the Silver Spring, Maryland native.

Justin Harmon (C)

A fairly average from Harmon’s official debut, with the veteran only taking three shots for two total points in 14 minutes. While the graduate student guard grabbed three boards and recorded an assist, he was pretty anonymous out on the floor.

Dain Dainja (B+)

A typical dominant Dainja performance against Eastern Illinois saw the redshirt junior snag six rebounds in 12 minutes on the floor. Amid an Illini performance that saw inconsistent shooting across the squad, Dainja still managed to turn in an efficient 4-6 shooting display for eight points on the night. Illinois needed physical presence in the paint on Monday night, and Dainja certainly filled that role for the team.

Niccolo Moretti (N/A)

Moretti finished the night with three assists in 12 minutes, good for a three-way tie as a team-high. This was accompanied by a team-high three turnovers and two points from the free-throw line.

AJ Redd (N/A)

Shot 1-2 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over once in three minutes on the floor.

Max Williams (N/A)

Played one minute on the court.

Sencire Harris (DNP)

Harris did not enter the game on Monday night, and it was announced that the sophomore guard will choose to redshirt the rest of the 2023-24 season.


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About the Contributors
James Kim
James Kim, Sports Editor
My name is James Kim and I’m a senior studying English with a minor in business. This is my third year with The Daily Illini and it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I joined in fall 2021, I began as a staff writer for the sports section where I covered women’s tennis. In spring 2022, I became an assistant sports editor and started covering soccer and Illinois men’s basketball. From spring 2023 onwards I’ve been working as the sports editor! In addition to being an Illini and Real Madrid fanatic, I also love watching movies and TV shows. If you have any questions about writing for The DI, you can reach me at my email below. I-L-L!
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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