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Illini Basketball Downs Final Four Team at MSG



Illini Basketball Downs Final Four Team at MSG
Dec 5, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) celebrates his three point shot against the Florida Atlantic Owls with teammates during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Illinois Basketball team took down No. 2 Texas in an overtime thriller in the Jimmy V Classic. This year, Illinois Basketball once again stole the show from another higher-ranked opponent, defeating FAU 98-89. After a slow start from both teams offensively, suddenly a drag race broke out. It went back and forth, with the Illini gaining an 11-point lead in the second half. The Owls made the runs you would expect a team that went to the Final Four last year would. However, in the end, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask were too much.

1. One Two Punch

On the big stage of Madison Square Garden, Illinois’ two transfer guards were the main attraction. Domask and Shannon Jr. combined for 66 of the Illini’s 98 points. They took 35 of the Illini’s 57 field goal attempts. Shannon Jr. was his usual self, providing nonstop aggression to the basket, brushing off Owls in his wake. He hit some timely threes and continued his streak of four games with at least a block. Shannon Jr. also made 11 of his 13 free throw attempts, including most of the game icing trips to the line. He finished with a career-high 33.

After an even first half Domask took the reins. He provided the Illini with the halfcourt creation allowing them to outpace FAU to the finish line. He was also strong on the glass, getting a team-high six rebounds. Domask finished with a career-high 33 of his own. With his frame, when the Illini can space the floor around him there are a lot of ways he can hurt you. He made 13 two-point shots, and just about each of them was unique. When the Illini get this kind of production, there are very few teams that will beat them.

2. Worthy Opponent

The Owls proved exactly why they did what they did last year in March. They are short on depth and missed Nick Boyd. But what they lack in depth they more than make up for in toughness. FAU went +2 on the glass against the number-one rebounding team in the country. Dusty May’s veteran squad also showed poise and hung around despite multiple runs from the Illini. When Vladislav Goldin was on the floor the Owls went blow for blow, but when Quincy Guerrier smartly drew his third foul Illinois pounced, taking a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

3. Illinois Basketball on The Board

With the Kansas exhibition not counting, Illinois needed a big win to put on top of their NCAA Tournament resume. A neutral site win over an 11th-ranked team who also is strong metrically is just that. Any time you can win in Madison Square Garden (something Illinois is starting to make a habit of) it’s a great thing. With two straight wins out of Champaign, the Illini look to finish up this road trip strong. Tennessee will provide the Illini with a new challenge, and another opportunity to pick up a  massive resume booster.

Illinois has had enough bad luck with brackets, so they need to get themselves the best odds. If they can keep playing like they did in this one, they can do just that.

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Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.