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Terrence Shannon Jr. leads Illinois past Iowa State 72-69 for first Elite Eight trip since 2005

Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. celebrates after a fast break dunk against Iowa State during the second half of the Sweet 16 college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Boston.

BOSTON — 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 broke away for a dunk in the closing seconds and later hit two free throws to help Illinois finally put away the second-seeded Cyclones (29-8).

Illinois made an NCAA Tournament 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.

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.

Illinois forward Dain Dainja (42) hangs on the rim after a dunk against Iowa State during the second half of the Sweet 16 college basketball game in the men’s NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) AP

The Illini have made the past four NCAA Tournaments under seventh-year coach Brad Underwood, who had never taken them past the first weekend until this year. Coleman Hawkins added 12 points and was the only other Illinois player 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.

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 forward Coleman Hawkins (33) celebrates after defeating Iowa State following a Sweet 16 college basketball game in the men’s NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 29, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) AP

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.
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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