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Illinois pummels Bethune-Cookman in nonconference finale

Dec 29, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini forward Dain Dainja (42) blocks the shot of Bethune-Cookman Wildcats center Elijah Hulsewe (32) during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore center Dain Dainja produced a career-high 22 points to go with six rebounds, four blocks and four steals in his first career start as Illinois capped its non-conference schedule with an 85-52 rout of Bethune-Cookman on Thursday night in Champaign, Illinois.

Coleman Hawkins notched 11 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season, while Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 13 points and freshman Sencire Harris added a season-high 12 for Illinois (9-4), which built a 32-point lead late in the first half and cruised from there.

Kevin Davis paced Bethune-Cookman (4-9) with 13 points and Dylan Robertson added 12. The Wildcats shot just 29.3 percent from the floor while dropping their fifth in a row. Chicago native Marcus Garrett, the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 14 points per game, was limited to five points on 1 of 9 shooting.

After his team’s stinging 22-point loss to Missouri in its previous outing on Dec. 22, Illinois coach Brad Underwood trotted out a new lineup and new offensive sets that emphasized more movement. With starting point guard Skyy Clark out due to a left shoulder injury, Harris made his first start. Dainja started in place of guard RJ Melendez.

Illinois ended the game’s suspense early as its swarming man-to-man defense suffocated Bethune-Cookman. The Fighting Illini bolted to a 10-0 lead as turnovers created fast-break layups for Hawkins and Shannon and a 3-pointer for Harris.

Bethune-Cookman finally scored on its 10th possession — Davis canning an 8-foot fadeaway five minutes into the game — but Illinois kept forcing turnovers that led to transition baskets.

Illinois induced 11 turnovers in the first 11 minutes en route to building a 31-10 advantage. The lead swelled to 44-12 on Jayden Epps’ 3-pointer with 3:24 to go before the Wildcats cut the margin to 47-19 by halftime – at which point Bethune-Cookman was shooting 20 percent from the field with 14 turnovers.

The Fighting Illini finished with 10 blocks and 10 steals as they forced 21 turnovers overall.

–Field Level Media