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Illini rout Rutgers in Shannon's return

Jan. 21—CHAMPAIGN — Terrence Shannon Jr. moved quickly from the postgame handshake line to the opposite side of Lou Henson Court to share a hug with his mom after Sunday's 86-63 victory against Rutgers.

Shannon celebrated the Illinois men's basketball win with a few more fans in the courtside seats and stopped to take photos with two groups, including two kids wearing matching No. 0 Illini jerseys, before making his way past the Orange Krush and off the court.

A chant of "TSJ! TSJ! TSJ!" poured forth from the Krush as Shannon worked his way past the student section and shared high fives with the front row.

It was the culmination of a whirlwind 48 hours. Shannon, suspended since Dec. 27 after being charged with rape in Lawrence, Kan., received a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless on Friday that reversed his suspension.

Two practices later he was back on the court on gameday.

Shannon didn't start Sunday against Rutgers, but entered to substantial applause just 2 minutes, 23 seconds into the game.

The veteran guard also wasn't at peak performance, missing his first five shots.

Shannon eventually settled in down the stretch — making his final five shots — and helped spark the Illinois run that turned a four-point game at the midway point of the second half into a 23-point blowout.

He finished with 16 points and four assists in 28 minutes, making 8 of 10 free throws and going 4 of 10 from the field. He missed all five of his three-point attempts.

"It just makes the whole team feel whole again because we got our best player back," Illinois guard Justin Harmon said. "And it's just fun. We're just glad to have him back. He's our brother."

Illinois coach Brad Underwood said he didn't intend on changing the way his team played with Shannon back on the court. The Illini went 4-2 without their leading scorer and emerged as a top-two offense in the country in Shannon's 3 1/2-week absence.

And Illinois didn't change. Much. There was still "booty ball" action with Marcus Domask. Pick-and-pop looks for Coleman Hawkins. Second-chance opportunities with Quincy Guerrier's aggressive rebounding.

But it was still different with Shannon back in the fold. The pace at which he plays spurred Illinois to that level collectively. Transition points that had come in smaller doses for the Illini (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten) were back at the forefront against the Scarlet Knights (10-8, 2-5).

"I think a big part of that win was him, just the way our transition offense gets going and our defense gets way better with him," Guerrier said. Illinois scored 20 fast-break points and finished the game 24 of 27 on layups and dunks.

"Our defense and our offense are going to improve with having him back," Guerrier added. "He's grateful. We're grateful to have him back and we're going to get it rolling."

Shannon had visceral reactions to big moments in Sunday's win. Back-to-back assists on fast break dunks for Hawkins were his reintroduction to a sold-out State Farm Center crowd of 15,544 fans.

The pop Shannon got from the crowd in that moment — with corresponding yell and fist pump as he ran back on defense — was only topped by his own dunk late in the second half. A soaring tomahawk finish that put Illinois up 80-58 and served as an exclamation point on another Big Ten win.

"Terrence provides easy opportunities," Underwood said. "We don't run a lot to him. We just don't. We haven't. We didn't. He finds stuff that is 6-6 and 225 pounds with a full head of steam coming at you. Those things are just organic. We weren't getting those. That's not a knock on anybody else. We just got them different ways."

Illinois had both Sunday against Rutgers. Shannon doing his runaway train act attacking the basket and the scoring balance from when he wasn't available. Five players in double figures for the second straight game, paced by a team-high 18 points from Harmon.

"I was really excited about how our guys played when we didn't have him because there was a tremendous connectivity," Underwood said. "Yet we were really starting to find our groove early before that. ... There's no doubt it's back to who we were, so to speak."