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Illinois Basketball Pulls Away From Valparaiso



Illinois Basketball Star's Future Remains Uncertain

Despite a slow start, the Illinois Men’s Basketball team cruised to an 87-64 win over Valparaiso. Trailing by seven at half, the Illini outscored the Beacons by 30 in the second frame. Illinois tightened up on both ends of the ball, and held a double digit lead from the eight minute mark on.

1. New Look, Same Dain

It was announced before the game that Coleman Hawkins would be unavailable. Brad Underwood said in the post-game that they were managing a day-to-day knee issue. Hawkins wore a knee sleeve against Marquette and was reportedly receiving treatment postgame. With Hawkins grounded, Dain Dainja stepped into the starting five. Like the rest of the team Dainja was sluggish out of the gate. He drew a silly technical hanging on the rim after dunking in the opening minutes.  However, he got back to his usual efficient ways, scoring 16 points on 10 shots. His struggles at the line continued, with an ugly 0-6 night stretching his streak to four games without a made free throw. I want to believe positive regression is coming, but the form right now looks very poor. Illinois will need Dainja to improve from the line as he is such a tough guard on the block.

2. Leading By Example

In that rough first half, the Illini allowed the Beacons’ Isaiah Stafford to go for 23 of their 45 points. Right out of half, Terrence Shannon Jr. picked him up. After being limited to just ten first half minutes due to foul trouble, Shannon Jr. made it his mission to stop the Bolingbrook native. Stafford went just 3-8 in the second half for seven points, and the Beacon’s offense grinded to a complete halt. Shannon Jr. also had 15 of his 22 points in the second half, refusing to let the Illini lose.

3. Blueprint

Even despite the poor offensive start and general cold shooting, Illinois was able to put up 87 points. They had just nine turnovers and consistently attacked the paint. 37% of their field goals were threes, around the 40% they want to be at. If they can stick to that formula, they will be able to survive poor shooting stretches. However, the free throw situation is officially worrying. The Illini have gone over 50% just once in four games. Streaky shooting is one thing, but missing free throws is like a turnover, and Illinois need more from everyone on that front.

Illinois has it’s final game before Thanksgiving on Sunday, where they face off against Western Illinois. The Leathernecks are the 322nd team in the country per KenPom.

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.