By IlliniGuys.com Staff
October 28, 2022
(Cover photo courtesy Illinois Athletics)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Considering the toll the preseason slate took on Illinois' health a year ago, the bigger victory Friday night may have been in the postgame training room and not on the scoreboard.
The 23rd ranked Illini earned an 87-52 victory over Division II Quincy University in their lone exhibition game before starting the non-conference portion of their schedule. It was a performance that lacked in style points, but displayed some of the depth and athleticism that the coaching staff and players have been talking about all summer and into the fall.
Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez led Illinois in scoring with 15 points each. Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 and Skyy Clark added 11 points. Hawkins also grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds, but also committed four turnovers on the night.
The Illini got the win just hours after key sophomore reserve Luke Goode underwent successful surgery on a broken bone in his foot, suffered during last Saturday's private scrimmage against defending NCAA champion Kansas. They avoided any injuries on this night, unlike a year ago. Last October, Trent Frazier (shoulder) and Andre Curbelo (concussion) suffered injuries in the two exhibition games that would figure into their play the entire season.
Both of those are among the six Illini no longer with the team, including all five starters from the reigning Big Ten co-regular season champions. That means eight players saw action against the Hawks for the first time ever in an Illini uniform. Transfers Shannon (Texas Tech) and Matthew Mayer (Baylor; 6 points, 3 rebounds) are expected to be leaders on this team. All four scholarship freshman - Clark, Ty Rodgers, Jayden Epps, and Sencire Harris - all showed moments on this night as they continue to learn each other and about the system. Former Baylor center Dain Dainja, who transferred after the fall semester last year and spent the next three months practicing against two-time All-American center Kofi Cockburn, scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in only 16 minutes.
Perhaps most impressive was the team's defense. Illinois' length and quick hands harassed the Hawks all night and forced them into 25 turnovers, resulting in 32 points and adding to their 22 points off fast breaks.
The Illinois veteran were impressive as well. Hawkins played with a maturity that was missing this time last year. Melendez showed off a steady game on both ends and his newfound thickness after a summer in the weight room with strength and coordinator, displaying flashes of the improved play that many observers expect of him this winter.
When asked after the game what needed to be worked on, head coach Brad Underwood said matter of factly, "everything". That will include three-point shooting. The Illini shot just 18% from behind the arc, and freshman point guard Clark was the only Illini to hit multiple treys.
Illinois opens the regular season Monday, November 7th against Eastern Illinois at State Farm Center (8pm CT, ESPNU).
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