Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Matthew Mayer, Illinois extend Minnesota’s skid

Matthew Mayer scored 22 points to pace five starters in double figures as Illinois snapped its first two-game losing streak of the season with a 78-69 Big Ten victory over Minnesota on Monday night in Champaign, Ill.

Jayden Epps scored 17 points and Coleman Hawkins notched 16 for Illinois (18-9, 9-7 Big Ten), which played for the second straight game without leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. as he remained in concussion protocol.

Sophomore RJ Melendez took Shannon’s place in the lineup and delivered his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, while Dain Dainja added 12 points.

Jamison Battle posted 22 of his season-high 31 points over the final 15 minutes to pace the Gophers (7-18, 1-14), who have lost 10 games in a row. Dawson Garcia fought off early foul trouble to finish with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Joshua Ola-Joseph contributed 11 points.

Illinois never trailed in a game originally scheduled for Feb. 7, but it was postponed due to COVID-19 issues for the Gophers.

The Illini held the Gophers to two points over a four-plus-minute stretch to build a 16-6 lead at the 13:04 mark of the first half. Epps fueled Illinois’ 10-2 run with a coast-to-coast layup and a 3-pointer from the wing.

Garcia, Minnesota’s leading scorer, picked up his second foul and went to the bench at the 8:55 mark. But instead of falling further behind, Minnesota cut a 19-10 deficit to 19-14.

Then Dainja stuffed home an offensive rebound, Hawkins swished a 3-pointer with the shot clock running out and Melendez threw down an unguarded, two-handed jam in a 63-second span to forge a 26-14 lead.

That forced Minnesota coach Ben Johnson to return Garcia to the floor, which spurred the Gophers to close the gap to 35-29 by halftime. Garcia led all first-half scorers with 12 points.

Epps gave Illinois some breathing room by cashing the first eight points of the second half — canning a 3-pointer, cutting to the hoop to collect a Dainja pass for a layup and sinking another 3-pointer from well beyond the top of the key to make it 43-29.

Minnesota never got closer than eight points the rest of the way as the Illini drilled 3-pointers each time the Gophers made an effort to come back.

–Field Level Media

FLM Direct-Baller
FLM Direct-Baller
Field Level Media was founded by sports media executives with more than 40 years of combined experience working with the most influential media companies in the industry.
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