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Shannon helps Illinois move on to bigger stage after Big Ten championship

Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. autographs a camera after the team's win against Wisconsin in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — Terrence Shannon Jr. took over the Big Ten Tournament, putting Illinois in position for much bigger goals.

After scoring 34 points in the championship game to lead 13th-ranked Illinois past Wisconsin on Sunday, Shannon received the Most Outstanding Player award for the tournament.

With 102 points in three games at Target Center, Shannon finished one short of the record for a single Big Ten Tournament. Keegan Murray had 103 points in four games for Iowa in 2022.

But the fifth-year guard whose performance on the court was so loud, from swishing pull-up 3-pointers off the break to finishing sky-high drives to the rim to sinking his free throws when he was fouled, has been consistently quiet off of it.

Shannon has not been made available for interviews since he was charged with rape or an alternative count of sexual battery in Kansas in December, stemming from an alleged incident in September. Shannon was suspended from team activities by the school. He returned after six games when a federal judge intervened, ruling that his civil rights were violated by a lack of due process.

The spotlight will increase considerably next week when the Illini, who have the No. 3 seed in the East Region, arrive in Omaha, Nebraska, to prepare for a first-round game against Morehead State in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m the basketball coach, and a lot of this stuff was put in play by our university, the courts, and I’m not going to consume myself with it,” coach Brad Underwood said after the Big Ten championship game. “It’s a very serious matter. He’s got representation. … It will be handled accordingly and with great sensitivity and respect to everybody.”

Illinois, which is the winningest team in the Big Ten over the last five seasons, won the conference tournament for the second time in four years. With one more win, the Illini will have their most victories since the 2004-05 team went 37-2 and lost in the NCAA championship game. That’s also the last time the program reached the Sweet 16.

“This team doesn’t know anything about any of that. I’m here to try to win a national championship,” Underwood said, referencing regular conversations he has with athletic director Josh Whitman and chancellor Robert Jones about that lofty goal that Illinois has never accomplished. “If those goals ever change, then I probably don’t need to be your ball coach anymore.”

Underwood has raved often about the chemistry of this team. Marcus Domask, who was an all-Big Ten pick with Shannon, is a graduate transfer from Southern Illinois. Shannon is in his second season with the Illini after coming from Texas Tech. Quincy Guerrier, another fifth-year player, transferred from Oregon for this season. Then there’s the lanky leader Coleman Hawkins, who has spent his entire career with Illinois.

“I’m super proud of all the adversity we’ve gone through, whether it was from Marcus in the summer with his hamstring, me all year with my knee, Quincy’s wrist all year, off-the-court things,” Hawkins said. “We’ve all stuck together, and we’ve done a really good job of just being together.”

Associated Press

Associated Press

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