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Mar 21, 2024 5:58 pm

Second-half surge sends Illinois past Morehead State

Morehead State, Illinois

Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 26 points, Dain Dainja had 17 of his 21 points after halftime and Marcus Domask notched a triple-double to lift Illinois past Morehead State 85-69 on Thursday in an NCAA Tournament East Region first-round game in Omaha, Neb.

Third-seeded Illinois (27-8) pulled away from the No. 14 Eagles behind a 20-3 run midway through the second half to go ahead 68-51. Dainja scored 10 points during the surge and finished 9 for 9 from the floor.

Illinois advanced to face 11th-seeded Duquesne in the second round on Saturday. The Dukes edged No. 6 BYU 71-67 in Thursday’s East Regional opener to secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 1969.

Domask solidified his first career triple-double as Illinois extended its lead down the stretch. He finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“We’re a deep team,” Domask said in a postgame TV interview. “We have a lot of guys. If you take away one guy, the next one is just going to step up like they did today.”

Illinois sidestepped an early flurry from the 14th-seeded Eagles to recover from last season’s first-round tournament defeat.

Morehead State raced to the first nine points of the game as Riley Minix, Kalil Thomas and Jordan Lathon each drilled treys in the opening 1:37.

Minix, an NAIA transfer and the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, scored a game-high 27 points, giving him 20-plus points in 13 of 14 games to close the season. Lathon followed with 23 points for the Eagles (26-9) to go with seven rebounds.

The Fighting Illini rallied behind their own standout, taking their first lead of the game when Shannon converted a three-point play with 5:51 left before halftime. Minix tied the game 29-29 with a pullup jumper on the next possession, but Illinois’ Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn answered with a trey.

Illinois led 39-38 at halftime. Shannon, who has scored in double figures in 39 straight games dating to last season, had 19 first-half points on 7-for-13 shooting. His teammates combined for 20 points on 8 of 18 from the floor.

Morehead State took its final lead when a pair of Minix free throws gave the Eagles a 45-43 advantage with 16:44 remaining.

Coleman Hawkins scored 10 points for Illinois. Domask recorded the 10th triple-double in NCAA Tournament history.

–Field Level Media

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