Illini open with exhibition-game rout

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CHAMPAIGN — Terrence Shannon Jr. showcased his skills on the court, dominating Ottawa (Kan.) with the finesse of an All-Big Ten guard facing an NAIA defense. In the meantime, Coleman Hawkins embraced his role without the pressure to carry the team, while Marcus Domask exhibited versatility and filled the stat sheet.

All signs pointed to success for No. 25 Illinois as they secured a 116-65 victory against Ottawa (Kan.) at State Farm Center. The team’s performance left Illinois coach Brad Underwood eager to review the game footage and learn from the experience. Despite focusing on fundamental plays and minimizing mistakes, the team couldn’t avoid some free-throw shooting hiccups and defensive lapses in the second half.

“We have a mature team,” said Domask. “We emphasized maintaining intensity throughout the entire game, and our depth allowed everyone to contribute effectively.”

Underwood executed his plan for the exhibition game by utilizing all 12 scholarship players, experimenting with different lineups. Freshman forward Amani Hansberry made the most of his playing time, achieving a double-double with 14 points and 12 total rebounds.

Shannon led the Illini with 18 points, while Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, Justin Harmon, Luke Goode, Quincy Guerrier, and Hawkins also made significant contributions to the team’s victory.

Ottawa’s selection as an opponent wasn’t by chance. Illini assistant athletic director for basketball, Joey Biggs, is an Ottawa alumnus and personally arranged the game. Biggs expressed his excitement about the match and mentioned the unique opportunity for his nephew, Jackson Biggs, who plays for the Ottawa team, to compete against Illinois.

Biggs actively participates in scheduling games for Illinois basketball, utilizing both predetermined slots like the Big Ten slate and the Gavitt Tipoff Games, as well as planning with other schools. He believes their upcoming games will provide great opportunities for the team to gauge their performance and progress.

On Oct. 29, Illinois is set to face No. 1 Kansas in their second exhibition game. Coach Underwood and Kansas coach Bill Self have discussed their approach for this year’s game, which differs from last year’s secretive scrimmage.

The 2023-24 season will officially commence for Illinois on Nov. 6 against Eastern Illinois. Redshirt junior center Dain Dainja emphasized the team’s growth and improved leadership, highlighting their defensive prowess and collective effort.

Scott Richey


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