NCAA Tournament 2024

Dain Dainja, Illinois shrug off slow first half en route to first round win


OMAHA, NEBRASKA – MARCH 21: Terrence Shannon Jr. #0 of the Illinois Fighting Illini shoots the ball over Riley Minix #22 of the Morehead State Eagles during the first half in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at CHI Health Center on March 21, 2024 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Illinois’ offense struggled to get going in their first round matchup against Morehead State, but thanks to dominant performances from Dain Dainja and Terrence Shannon the Illini cruised to an 85-69 win on Thursday afternoon.

Dainja scored 21 points off the bench for Illinois, while Shannon went 9-of-16 from the field and scored a team-high 26 points in the contest.

Marcus Domask notched a triple double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and Coleman Hawkins chipped in with 10 points in the opening round victory.

Riley Minix led all scorers with 27 points for the Eagles, while guard Jordan Lathon scored 23 points and added seven rebounds in the losing effort.

Illinois only led by one point after the first half of the game, and Morehead State pulled even at 48-48 with 14 minutes left in the game, but from there the Illini stepped on the gas pedal.

Buoyed by two separate 16-3 runs, the Illini quickly raced ahead of the Eagles in the second half, with Dainja and Shannon leading the way in a performance similar to the second half surges that propelled Illinois to a Big Ten tournament victory over the weekend.

Illinois will face another double-digit seed on Saturday, as Duquesne pulled off an upset over No. 6 seed BYU in their opening round game on Thursday afternoon. Dae Dae Grant had 19 points for the Dukes, and Fousseyni Drame had eight points and eight rebounds in the winning effort.

A start time for the game has not yet been set.

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