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The Indiana Daily Student

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Indiana men’s basketball seeks pivotal road win against Shannon, No. 10 Illinois

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As Indiana men’s basketball’s season wears on, the opportunity for statement wins becomes slimmer.  

After a pair of losses to No. 2 Purdue on Jan. 16 and then-No. 11 Wisconsin on Jan. 19, the Hoosiers face a third ranked foe in No. 10 Illinois at 3 p.m. Saturday in Champaign, Illinois. Indiana — which sits at 4-4 in conference play and remains without a Quadrant 1 victory — has a chance to earn a pivotal, and potentially momentum-building victory. 

But with a loss, it could see its NCAA Tournament hopes take a hit. 

Here are three storylines to monitor when the Hoosiers and the Illini take the floor: 

Overcoming road struggles 

For the fifth time this season in a 91-79 loss to Wisconsin, Indiana struggled mightily away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers have displayed an ability to unravel, and that was illustrated during the Badgers’ 18-2 second-half run, which featured an ejection of sophomore guard CJ Gunn.

Indiana’s shooters overcame a sluggish first half, shooting 56% from deep and 67% from the field in the second period compared to marks of 20% and 40%, respectively, in the first. However, the 91 points were the second-most the Hoosiers have surrendered all season. 

“It’s tough enough to win on the road,” Woodson said via Zoom Thursday morning. “You got to go out on the road with a defensive mentality and rebound the ball to keep the game intact, and I don’t think we did a very good job of that.” 

According to the 2024 Pomeroy Ratings, Illinois boasts the seventh-highest adjusted offensive rating in the nation. Led by fifth-year senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. who averages 20.5 points per game, the second highest in the conference, the Illini’s rapid transition pace has made them one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten. 

“The big challenge is that we’ve got to make sure we get our bigs back in transition because they are pushing every opportunity they get,” Woodson said. 

Next man up 

Sophomore center Kel’el Ware was sidelined during Indiana’s loss to Wisconsin with an apparent ankle injury. Ware appeared on the pregame injury report designated as questionable, but he had a walking boot on his right foot after missing most of team warmups. 

Woodson — who noted Ware’s absence was unexpected — said the injury stemmed from landing on a teammate’s foot during practice. Thursday morning, Woodson offered an update on Ware’s status.

“He was on the floor a little yesterday,” Woodson said. “He did some warmup drills with us.” 

While Woodson said Ware’s participation was mostly endurance-based and noncontact, he didn’t rule out the North Little Rock, Arkansas, native for Saturday. If Ware were to miss a second consecutive game, junior forward Payton Sparks would be in line to start in his place. 

Against the Badgers, Sparks scored 7 points in 29 minutes in just his second start of the season. While a decision on Ware’s availability will not be known until Saturday, the 7-footer’s versatile skillset could be useful against a comparatively shorter Illini side. 

Terrence Shannon Jr. 

Illinois’ leading scorer has been the subject of national controversy as of late. Shannon was suspended indefinitely in late December and missed six games after being charged with rape from an incident in Kansas in September. 

However, Shannon was granted a preliminary injunction and reinstated by a federal judge on Jan. 19. He returned to the court against Rutgers on Jan. 21 and was met with an ovation from the Illini crowd. On the road against Northwestern on Wednesday, though, there was a staunchly different reception.

The return of Shannon offers an offensive jolt for Illinois, but it presents a potential headache for Indiana’s defense. The 6-foot-6 Chicago native was a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection and named to the Wooden Award Top 50 Watch List in November, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding player. 

As a senior last season, Shannon averaged just over 17 points per game and garnered First-Team All-Big Ten honors in the coach’s poll. The Hoosiers will already have a tall task dealing with Illinois’ quick and balanced offense, and Shannon will add an explosive factor to that equation. 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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