Illinois had a history of slow starts, but shook off that trend with a dominating performance against a tough opponent before the fall break. The Illini faced early deficits of at least eight in each of their first three games against low or mid-major opponents, but led nearly wire-to-wire in an 88-60 win over Southern on Sunday. Terrence Shannon Jr. led the way with a game-high 24 points, while Dain Dainja added 12 points and Quincy Guerrier had 10 points and six rebounds. Freshman big Amani Hansberry also contributed with eight points, seven rebounds and three assists off the bench.
Dainja was instrumental in Illinois’ early success, scoring 10 points in the first 6:40 and leading the team in double figures for the second straight game. He replaced injured Coleman Hawkins and gave the Illini an offensive spark off the bench. Niccolo Moretti also provided a boost for Illinois, having four points, three assists and three rebounds in the first half. However, he left the game late with an ankle injury and did not return, while Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn also exited with an injury in the final minute.
Southern attempted to keep up with Illinois by forcing turnovers, as they were ranked 37th in forced turnover rate according to Kenpom. The Illini committed 10 turnovers in just the first 16 minutes and finished with 21 overall. Despite this, Shannon had a personal streak of 12 consecutive points late in the first half that put Illinois up 40-24 with just under two minutes remaining before halftime. He finished with 17 points in the first half as Illinois took an impressive lead into intermission.
In the second half, Illinois continued to dominate proceedings as Luke Goode hit three triples to finish with nine points. He has been instrumental in Illinois’ offensive output this season, having made at least three threes in four of their five games so far. Next up for Illinois is Western Illinois on Friday at 8 p.m., which promises to be another exciting test for their improving form as they look to build momentum heading into conference play