NCAAB: Terrence Shannon Jr., Illinois outlast Iowa St., reach Elite Eight

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BOSTON — Even with UConn’s impressive NCAA Tournament track record, Illinois isn’t afraid to face the defending national champion in the Elite Eight.

Terrence Shannon Jr. poured in 29 points and the third-seeded Fighting Illini beat second-seeded Iowa State 72-69 in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night to set up a meeting with the Huskies that will crown the winner of the East Region.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily intimidating,” Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins said of Saturday’s upcoming game against UConn. “Personally, I have more of a respect for them. … I think they’ve been playing great all year. I think they’re well-coached, and they do what they do.

“As we learn more about them, I’ll become much more familiar with them, but we definitely have a higher level of respect for them and their culture and what they do.”

After trailing by nine with just under 14 minutes left in the game, the Cyclones (29-8) found themselves within 56-54 following Curtis Jones’ 3-pointer with 5:27 to go.

Shannon and Luke Goode prevented Iowa State from moving in front by sandwiching Tre King’s layup with a pair of triples, making it 62-56 in favor of Illinois (29-8).

The Cyclones trailed by at least three the rest of the way, and Shannon’s steal and slam with 22 seconds to play clinched the victory.

“We had some opportunities, and I think mentally, you get over that hump and you tie the game, or if you’re fortunate enough to take the lead, it adds a whole different mental effect,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.”

Shannon is now 7-0 against Iowa State dating back to his Texas Tech days. He was with the Red Raiders for three seasons (2019-22).

Hawkins chipped in 12 points and six rebounds for the Fighting Illini, who outshot Iowa State 42.1 percent to 39.7 percent.

Jones paced Iowa State with 26 points. Keshon Gilbert supplied 14, and King had 12 to go along with seven boards.

Gilbert lit a spark under the Cyclones, scoring nine points in the opening 3:38 of the second half to cut Iowa State’s deficit to 41-37.

It didn’t take long for Illinois to push the lead to nine, doing so when Shannon drove for a layup less than three minutes later to make it 48-39.

Then the Fighting Illini faced some adversity in the form of foul trouble for Shannon, who picked up his fourth personal with 11:17 to go. Shannon went to the bench, and Iowa State capitalized on his departure, using an 11-5 spurt to get within 56-54.

Illinois scored the first eight points of the game and later led 16-6, taking advantage of Iowa State’s 2-for-12 start from the field. But Jones got the Cyclones on track, knocking down a 3-pointer before converting a three-point play to make it a four-point game.

The Fighting Illini’s advantage grew to 24-12 with 6:31 left in the half before Illinois took a 36-26 lead into the break.

Saturday marks the first meeting between the Fighting Illini and Huskies since 1994. UConn defeated fifth-seeded San Diego State 82-52 earlier Thursday, becoming the first defending national champion to reach the Elite Eight since Florida accomplished the feat in 2007.

–Nick Galle, Field Level Media

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