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Illini Basketball opens Big Ten Schedule with Road Rout



Dec 2, 2023; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) reacts after a three point basket against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at Jersey Mike's Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Basketball team had yet to leave the confines of Champaign for a game this year. In their first showing of a two-week tour of the East Coast, the Illini dominated Rutgers 76-58. Illinois led basically the entire game, giving them an impressive opening win to the Big Ten slate.

1. Big and Nasty

Rutgers’ Jersey Mike Arena (more commonly known as the RAC) has long been a minefield for ranked teams. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights do a great job of being disruptive and creating chaos. With Ty Rodgers making his first road start there were always going to be swings. After taking a 14-2 lead that grew to 16 right after the under 12 timeout the Illini didn’t really let the RAC crowd get going. Illinois’ length gave the home team fits the game, and they dominated the glass. They finished +28 on the glass. The second part of the first half was a sloppy, foul-heavy slog that saw Rutgers draw within five at the break.

Rodgers overall struggled with the press, having a couple of sloppy moments and finishing with 3 turnovers. However, he made up for it by getting three offensive rebounds and Illinois never let Rutgers breathe in the second half. Illinois is currently second in the country in rebounds per game at just over 48, and that number will go up after this 55-rebound romp.

2. The Dude

No one epitomizes the Illini’s team more than Terrence Shannon Jr. The super senior was head and shoulders above anyone else on the court, and despite five turnovers of his own, he was undeniable. 23 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Shannon Jr. had an answer every time the Rutgers crowd started to smell blood. He made four threes, with two of those being off the dribble. He also hounded Rutgers lead guard Derek Simpson into 1-6 from the field.

His 8 rebounds in the first half set the tone for the team. They were just bigger, stronger, and had more dudes than Rutgers. Like many others on the Illini, he isn’t perfect, but he’s the apex predator against almost every team the Illini will play.

3. Job Done

We have seen even great Illini teams trip up at the RAC. 76 points on the road against a top-10 Kenpom defense is impressive no matter what it looks like. Illinois finished with 17 turnovers, but shot 45% from the field, 43% from three, and had 12 assists. After the Scarlet Knights took a quick 2-0 lead after a turnover against the press the Illini never trailed again.

There’s going to be some growing pains still with this team. Rodgers has to continue to grow into his new role, and the transfers will need to continue to find their spots around Shannon Jr. and Hawkins. Domask did well in his hybrid ball-handler role but had 3 turnovers of his own. This is a great floor, though.

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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.