#18 Illini Survive Upset Bid By Alabama A&M

By IlliniGuys Staff

December 17, 2022

(Cover photo courtesy Steve Snider/IlliniGuys)

After a week of exams and a week of soul-searching, this was not what Illini nation expected.

Matthew Mayer scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half as 18th ranked Illinois survived a scare against Alabama A&M, 68-47 Saturday afternoon at State Farm Center.

Illinois (8-3) managed to overcome an 8:37 scoring drought in the second half that saw the visiting Bulldogs go on a 16-0 run to close the score to 38-37.

That's when Mayer took over.  The graduate transfer from Baylor, who had the only Illinois basket in the second half before the drought, scored eight points to key a 17-4 run as Illinois extended its lead to 55-41.  The Illini defense allowed just two field goals in the final five minutes to secure the victory.

It was that defense that carried the team once again throughout the game.  Alabama A&M managed to shoot just 30percent from the field and made just three of 17 attempts from outside the arc.  For the seventh time in eleven games, the Illinois defense forced 15 or more turnovers, as the Bulldogs coughed it up 18 times.

It was Illinois' first game since their stunning 74-59 home loss to Penn State one week earlier, in which head coach Brad Underwood blasted his team for a lack of leadership.  It appeared as though the Illini had shaken off the residue of that loss and the rust from having several days off, as they went on a 9-0 run early in the game to take a lead they would never relinquish. Illinois would lead by as much as 17 points before going into halftime with a 36-19 lead. Terrence Shannon Jr. was aggressive, scoring a game-high 12 points with half of those coming at the free throw line.

Terrence Shannon Jr. added 18 points for Illinois. Coleman Hawkins scored nine, but committed a team-high five of Illinois' 18 turnovers.

Garrett Hicks scored 13 points and Messi Thompson 12 for Alabama A&M (3-7), which was facing its first ranked team this seaoson.

The Illini now get ready for the annual Braggin' Rights game against Missouri Thursday night in St. Louis (8pm, SEC Network).  The Tigers improved to 11-1 after a 68-66 win over Central Florida earlier Saturday afternoon.

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