Terrence Shannon Jr. leads Illinois past Iowa State; UConn awaits with Final Four berth on line

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BOSTON — Illinois’ offense carried it through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

The Illini’s defense helped put them one victory away from the Final Four.

Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 29 points and Illinois reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005, beating Iowa State 72-69 in an East Region semifinal on Thursday night.

Shannon had 20 points in the first half for the third-seeded Illini (29-8), who never trailed. He also had a steal and breakaway dunk in the closing seconds and later hit two free throws to help Illinois finally put away the second-seeded Cyclones (29-8).

“When you face the No. 1 defense, you know they’re not No. 1 because they’re soft or they lack effort,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said. “I also knew they’d come out and punch or counterpunch, and they did that.”

The Illini shot only 42% from the field, but they held Iowa State to 39% shooting and forced nine turnovers.

Illinois made a regional final for the fourth time in the past 40 years and will meet defending champion UConn on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four. The top-seeded Huskies defeated San Diego State 82-52 in the earlier East semifinal.

Shannon was limited to 29 minutes because of foul trouble but remained the the Illini’s workhorse. He hasn’t spoken to the media since he was charged in December with rape or an alternative count of sexual battery for an incident that occurred in Kansas in September.

The charge led to him being suspended for six games before a federal judge reversed the ban, ruling that Shannon’s civil rights had been violated. Shannon’s attorneys have said he is innocent of the charges.

Underwood said Shannon has been a steadying presence all season.

“People who know Terrence know what a great competitor he is,” Underwood said. “He was dialed in mentally.”

Curtis Jones scored 26 points and Keshon Gilbert had 14 for Iowa State, which came into March Madness having blown out Houston for the Big 12 Tournament title.

The Illini have made the past four NCAA Tournaments under their seventh-year coach, but Underwood had never taken them past the first weekend until this year. Coleman Hawkins added 12 points and was the only Illinois player besides Shannon in double figures.

The Illini’s lead was down to 68-64 with under a minute to play before a turnover by Milan Momcilovic found its way to Shannon, who drove in a for a two-handed dunk with 24 seconds left.

Jones was fouled on a 3-point attempt and dropped in all three free throws to make it 70-67, but Shannon calmly made two foul shots with 6 seconds left.

“We weren’t able to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said.

The Cyclones struggled offensively in the first half, trailing 36-26 at the break, but found their touch after halftime. A floater by Gilbert got Iowa State within 51-49 with 9:46 remaining.

Gilbert then got a steal — one of Iowa State’s 11 — and sprinted in for a potential tying layup, but it rolled off the rim.

Iowa State later misfired with another chance to tie it up, this time leading to a driving layup by Illinois’ Marcus Domask. He completed a three-point play to make it 56-51.

When Iowa State got it back within three a few possessions later, Domask came through again, knocking down a 3 to push the Illini’s lead back to 62-56.

Illinois entered the night with the top offensive efficiency rating in the tournament, but it was its defense that stood out at the outset.

The Illini’s game plan was to chase the Cyclones off the 3-point line and make them try contested shots inside the arc. It worked for most of the first half as Iowa State’s shooting percentage fell under 20% near the midway point. The Cyclones also had a more than five-minute scoring drought.

“I think the game plan worked, forcing those tough 2s, making them make those tough shots,” Hawkins said.

Iowa State came in boasting the tourney’s most efficient defense and started the game with a steal by Gilbert. But the Cyclones had few highlights beyond that in the opening 20 minutes.

Illinois took a quick 11-2 lead while Iowa State went scoreless for nearly four minutes.

 

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