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

‘We’re here to win’: No. 24 Illinois men’s basketball opens Big Ten campaign at Rutgers

Guard+Terrence+Shannon+Jr.+takes+a+moment+to+briefly+stretch+his+arms+on+the+court+during+a+game+against+Eastern+Illinois+on+Nov.+6.
James Hoeck
Guard Terrence Shannon Jr. takes a moment to briefly stretch his arms on the court during a game against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 6.

With the excitement of the first Big Ten matchup this season, No. 24 Illinois men’s basketball (5-1) will face Rutgers (5-1) in Jersey Mike’s Arena for its first away game of 2023-24. Illinois re-earned a spot in the AP Top 25 poll after a whopping 32-point win against Western Illinois on Nov. 24.

“(Rutgers) is a team that is very, very good,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “A place that’s very challenging to go win at and that’s our challenge as we head into Saturday afternoon’s game.”

The showdown will also see the Illini kick off their Big Ten campaign, with expectations as high as ever following a mixed season last year. The previous campaign saw Illinois endure a slow start to conference play, with opening losses to Maryland, Penn State and Northwestern causing early panic among the fanbase.

The Illini managed to get back to their winning ways following an upset victory over the then No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers. While the rest of the year saw its ups and downs, Illinois was able to turn its 0-3 start to Big Ten play into an 11-9 conference record by the end of the season.

While it’ll be crucial to start this year’s campaign on a high note, a recurring issue that Underwood’s squad needs to address is the slow starts against stronger competition. The Illini have proven themselves to be a top-tier second-half team, but having to dig themselves out of an early hole against the Scarlet Knights could be a tall order away in Piscataway, New Jersey.

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    Illinois will look to another big game from fifth-year guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who has averaged 19.5 points across the team’s opening six games. The Chicago native has played an instrumental role during his time with the program and will likely be the one to watch against Rutgers.

    “They’re a pretty good team,” Shannon said. “I feel like every team’s good in the Big Ten and we just gotta come to play. Every game’s gonna be hard for us and I respect every opponent.”

    Saturday night could potentially see the return of senior forward Coleman Hawkins from a knee injury. Hawkins hasn’t featured for Illinois since Nov. 14 against Marquette but has been back in practice recently. When prompted about whether the forward will see the action against Rutgers, Underwood remained optimistic.

    “I hope so, I hope so,” Underwood said. “We’ll see his game go, he’s practicing, he’s been an active participant and we’ll make that decision gametime.”

    Inertia will be key for triumph in Saturday’s game. Avoiding slow starts to build acceleration throughout playtime will help the Illini outlast the Scarlet Knights, and an early conference win could kickstart much-needed momentum for future Big Ten contests.

    The last time the two teams went toe to toe was on Feb. 11, when the Illini garnered a nine-point victory despite losing by four points at halftime. However, strong defense in the second half contributed to the win, allowing the Illini to go on a 19-0 run to win the contest.

    Historically, Illinois holds a record of 11-4 against Rutgers over the last 18 years. A point of interest, though, is the Illini’s away record against the Scarlet Knights — in the six games played in New Jersey, Illinois has only won twice.

    However, with a three-game win streak under the current squad’s belt, hopes are high for Illini fans. Whether they’ll be watching from home or in Piscataway, supporters will anticipate a strong showing from Underwood’s team as it prepares for extended time away from Champaign.

    “We’ll see where we’re really at,” Shannon said. “We obviously have the loss to Marquette. We’re not here for moral victories, we’re here to win. I feel like we’ll see where we’re really at these next three games.”

    Illinois will conclude its month-long home stand with a trip to Rutgers on Saturday. The matchup will tip off at 3 p.m. CT and will broadcast on the Big Ten Network as the Illini prepare for a three-game road trip on the East Coast.

    “I’m not going to New York and New Jersey to have fun,” Shannon said. “I’m there to win.”

     

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    About the Contributors
    Ella Narag, News Editor
    Hello! My name is Ella Narag, and I am a sophomore studying integrative biology honors and global studies. I’ve been writing for The Daily Illini since September 2022 and have been news editor since March 2023. I’m very hopeful and excited for the school year and all the content our team will be putting out. For any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out at [email protected] or [email protected].
    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!
    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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