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Illinois hangs 59-point second half on Owls

Most people who follow college basketball know all about Illinois wing Terrence Shannon Jr.

The question for many—after the 20th-ranked Illini played a nearly flawless second half to upend 11th-ranked Florida Atlantic 98-89 in front of an ESPN audience in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden—was:

Who was that Domask man?

Marcus Domask, a 6-foot-6 forward averaging just 9.1 points and shooting 38 percent for the season, hit 15-of-21 shots on a career-high 35-point night that included big shot after big shot in a 25-point second half. Shannon, the All-Big Ten wing, almost kept up with him, scoring 22 of his 33 in the second half, when Illinois (7-1) put an astounding 59 points on the Owls (7-2).

Shannon scored 33 points on 10-for-14 shooting, an unstoppable blend of power and quickness, often catching hit-ahead passes on transition drives to the basket. Not ideal for the Owls, but not of the blue.

“Shannon is one of the most dynamic wings in the country,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “We didn’t get our defense set and he found seams in transition and did a great job of attacking and getting downhill and was able to convert.”

And Domask?

“He took advantage of some of the things we’re usually OK giving up,” May said.

And then some. Domask, who did significant damage simply working over FAU defenders, one-on-one, as part of a larger Illinois strategy of exploiting specific matchups. If he wasn’t driving his shorter defender to the basket, Domask was shaking loose for open mid-range shots and even dropping in two timely 3-pointers.

“They set up play one-on-one against our defenders and he did that very, very well," May said. "We were second in the country last year, and sixth this year I think, in forcing you to score without an assist, disrupting your offense and forcing teams to play one-on-one basketball. They did that at an extremely efficient level tonight. We could have done some things schematically to help our guys, but honestly we haven’t been exposed like that in the mid-range since we’ve been here. This was uncharted territory for us.”

The path to the basket was easier for Domask and Shannon for much of the game because Vlad Goldin wasn’t in it. Goldin, who scored a career-high 23 points, sat out 21 minutes because of foul trouble. He was on the bench for 6 ½ minutes of the second half when Illinois, already five points into a 14-0 run, went from 49-47 down to 70-63 up. Shannon shot and Euro-stepped his way to 14 points in that decisive.

“We’re in a positional size disadvantage at four positions when he’s in the game, and when’s he’s out of the game, we’re in a positional size disadvantage at five,” May said

Goldin’s return helped FAU rally from 82-72 down to within 86-84, but center Coleman Hawkins hit an open three from out top with 2:49 left. Alijah Martin matched that 3, but Hawkins hit two free throws to make the lead five again, and the Owls were unable to keep up from there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

At one point in the second half, at the 6:26 mark, Illinois had scored 44 points and Shannon and Domask combined for 38, missing only seven shots between them.

“We made mistakes. I thought we had a small margin of error and they capitalized on every mistake,” May said.

Illinois' physical inside defense vexed the Owls, especially in the first half. Johnell Davis (pictured via FAU Athletics), usually able to score on taller players because of next-level footwork, was called for shuffling his feet a couple of times. Others were whistled for traveling as well.

“I’m anxious to see (the calls) on film," May said. "That was definitely more traveling than we’ve been called for this season combined. They’re physical—the Big Ten is a physical league—and they ‘assist’ you from behind, to put it mildly. We have to be stronger and adjust to the game, but that was odd for us to travel that many times."

Even FAU’s bigs had trouble early with the Illinois physicality. The three Owls who essentially played the center position scored six baskets in the first half on 11 shots—but a dunk by Goldin off a feed from Jalen Gaffney was their only “make” in five attempts underneath. Tre Carroll swished two open three pointers, Giancarlo Rosado banked in another, and Golden dropped in two 15-footers from the wing. Carroll gave the Owls quality minutes as emergency post, especially in the first half when Rosado joined Goldin on the bench with two fouls.

Davis finished with 19 points for FAU. Martin had 19, Carroll and Gaffney 10 apiece.

“That we play games like this, to learn about ourselves,” May said. “We’ll be better for this experience.”

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