Home Sports Illinois knocks off No. 14 Wisconsin 79-69 for its 1st Big Ten win of the season: ‘That’s how good we can be’

Illinois knocks off No. 14 Wisconsin 79-69 for its 1st Big Ten win of the season: ‘That’s how good we can be’

by staff

CHAMPAIGN — Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 24 points and Coleman Hawkins made six 3s and finished with 20 points to lead Illinois to a 79-69 win over No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Chucky Hepburn scored 22 points and Steven Crowl added 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Badgers’ first loss since Nov. 29.

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Freshman Jayden Epps added 15 off the bench for the Illini (10-5, 1-3 Big Ten), who made 10 of 19 3-point attempts in their first conference win of the season.

“That’s how good we can be,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “But you can’t get derailed with a distraction or something that goes awry. So you have to fight. We got to a point (recently) where we weren’t playing very hard, and that’s not our culture.”

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Shannon streaked through the lane for a two-handed dunk and Hawkins buried a 3 off a Hepburn turnover to give Illinois a 37-30 lead with 16 minutes, 32 seconds left. Hawkins extended the Illini lead to 13 a little more than a minute later with his fourth 3.

Hepburn brought the Badgers back within seven with three straight buckets within 90 seconds, but the Illini made 9 of 10 shots to create a 13-point cushion with 7:27 left.

“Defensively we got loose, got disjointed and Illinois took advantage of it,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “They can do that with how they can spread you (out). Specifically, if Hawkins is hitting 3s like that, there’s a lot more pressure on you.”

The Badgers (11-3, 3-1) took an 11-6 lead early as the Illini started 8 of 22 from the field. A Dain Dainja bucket spurred a 13-3 Illini run, which featured 3s from Epps and Hawkins, and they took a 30-27 lead into halftime.

The Illini’s switch to a five-out spread offense in December finally paid off Saturday as in-rhythm shots turned into more made baskets. Hawkins said the offense is “much simpler” and was a needed change after Illinois struggled in half-court sets over the last month.

“I think it’s more suited for us and easier for us to get a feel for rather than kind of playing more free,” Hawkins said. “It’s more structured.”

Guard Skyy Clark announced on social media Friday that he has left the Illini “for the time being” for “personal reasons” that have “nothing to do with basketball.”

Underwood said the Illini are “going to love” and try to help Clark, who has started at point guard for much of the season and is averaging 7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

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Underwood said there is no timetable for Clark’s return.

Expect Badger veterans Hepburn and Crowl to shoulder more of the scoring load as long as top scorer Tyler Wahl remains out with an ankle injury.

“We definitely could’ve used Tyler today, but we have 16 guys on the team,” Hepburn said. “When one man goes down, another man needs to step up and that’s what we rely on. We rely on.”

Wisconsin: The Badgers missed Wahl on Saturday and suffered through some scoring droughts with Hepburn’s slow start from the field. But Gard’s group appears to have the chemistry to bounce back and battle for a Big Ten title.

Illinois: The Illini looked to be in turmoil after three straight Power Five losses and Friday’s announcement that Clark left the team — at least temporarily. Getting good performances from Shannon and Hawkins in the same game is a vital development, though Underwood still faces a significant challenge to right the ship to save a season with lofty expectations.

Wisconsin: Plays host to Michigan State on Tuesday.

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Illinois: Visits Nebraska on Tuesday.

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