Illinois’ early season struggles have been well-documented, but the Illini shook off their slow starts with a convincing win over Southern on Sunday. After falling behind by at least eight points in each of their first three games against low or mid-major opponents, Illinois dominated nearly wire-to-wire in an 88-60 victory.
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 made a significant impact off the bench, scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists.
Dainja was instrumental in Illinois’ early success, scoring 10 points in the first 6:40 and providing the Illini with their first four made field goals. He has been filling in for the injured Coleman Hawkins and has been double-digits in scoring for the second straight game. Niccolo Moretti also gave the Illini an offensive boost off the bench for the second straight game, having four points, three assists and three rebounds in the first half. Moretti left the game late in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return, while Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn also exited with an injury in the final minute.
Southern came into the contest ranked 37th in forced turnover rate according to Kenpom, but were able to speed up Illinois into some miscues to stay within striking distance early on. The Illini committed 10 turnovers in just 16 minutes and finished with a total of 21 turnovers. Shannon had a personal 12-0 run late in the first half that put Illinois up by 40-24 with just over two minutes remaining before halftime and finished with 17 points in the opening period as Illinois took an impressive 18-point lead into intermission.
Illinois opened up a commanding 34-point lead in the second half thanks to Luke Goode’s three triples after halftime that finished with nine points overall. Goode has connected from beyond the arc at least three times in four of Illinois’ five games this season. Next up for Illinois is a matchup against Western Illinois at home on Friday at 8 p.m., which promises to be another challenging test for this young team as they continue to grow and develop throughout the season.