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LIVE FROM OMAHA: Illinois 89, Duquesne 63, FINAL

Mar. 23—#Illini #MarchMadness https://t.co/OzgweaocXI pic.twitter.com/TI6mEtW5DH

— Scott Richey (@srrichey) March 24, 2024

OMAHA, Neb. — How sweet it is again for Illinois men's basketball.

The Illini never trailed on Saturday night, easily defeating Duquesne 89-63 to secure a matchup with Iowa State on Thursday night in the Sweet 16 at TD Garden in Boston, the first time Illinois has advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2005.

Terrence Shannon Jr. put on a show with a game-high 30 points, Marcus Domask had another steady performance with 22 points and seven assists as the Illini (28-8) left little doubt against the 11th-seeded Dukes (25-12) at CHI Health Center.

Coleman Hawkins added 11 points — all in the first half — to go along with seven rebounds. Quincy Guerrier gave Illinois four players in double figures with 10 points and six rebounds, and Dain Dainja still hasn't missed a shot in the NCAA tournament, going 4 for 4 with eight points.

"It's nice to check that box off," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in a postgame TV interview on the court. "We're excited, obviously, but we don't want this to be the culmination. We've been playing awfully well. When we guard like we did early, we can be really electric in transition."

***

Terrence Shannon Jr.'s night is likely over, but what a night it has been.

Shannon has scored a game-high 30 points, only the third Illini to ever hit 30 points in an NCAA tournament game. He joins Deron Williams (31 points against Cincinnati in a 2004 second-round game) and Frank Williams (30 points against Kansas in a Sweet 16 game in 2001) as the only Illini to hit that mark in the NCAA tournament. Shannon checked out of the game with just under six minutes remaining in the second half.

Marcus Domask has also had an important role in the Illini having their way against the Dukes tonight. Domask is up to 22 points to go along with seven assists as Illinois is only minutes away from securing its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2005.

***

Illinois in a bit of scoring drought, with no field goals during the last 3 minutes, 24 seconds. Two free throws from Shannon have him up to 28 points as the Illini are still shooting at a blistering pace from the field, making 30 of 48 for 64 percent.

***

Terrence Shannon Jr. is up to 26 points (five away from 700 for the season to become the first Illini to ever hit that milestone in a season), Luke Goode made his first three-pointer of the night and the Illini are in complete control of this second-round NCAA tournament game.

Two records to keep an eye on during the final 10 minutes: Illinois has never scored at least 100 points in the NCAA tournament and its biggest margin of victory in the NCAA tournament is 42 points, secured by a 96-54 win in the first round against Northwestern State in 2001.

***

Terrence Shannon Jr. continues to put on a show. And Dain Dainja has yet to miss a shot in the NCAA tournament.

Shannon came out of the first media timeout of the second half by making his second three-pointer of the night — on Marcus Domask's sixth assist of the game — and then finished off a two-hand dunk through the lane against the overmatched Duquesne defense to get to 21 points and build the Illini's lead to 63-37.

Shannon now has a game-high 24 points, with Domask up to 17 points. Dainja, meanwhile, has eight points on 4 of 4 shooting off the bench. He is now 13 of 13 for 29 points in his first two NCAA tournament games.

Illinois knows its next opponent if it continues to have its way with Duquesne, with the Illini meeting Iowa State on Thursday night (at a time to be determined) at TD Garden. The other regional semifinal game that will tip off on Thursday night in Boston will be decided on Sunday night. Reigning national champion and No. 1 overall seed Connecticut (32-3) plays No. 9 seed Northwestern (22-11) at 6:45 p.m. on Sunday from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The other second-round game that feeds into Boston is the last one scheduled to tip off on Sunday when No. 5 seed San Diego State (25-10) plays No. 13 seed Yale (23-9) at 8:45 p.m. on Sunday at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Wash.

***

The Illini kept getting high-percentage shots at the start of the second half, with dunks by Quincy Guerrier off a lob from Marcus Domask and then Terrence Shannon Jr. finishing off a fast-break dunk with a soft (by Shannon standards) finish on a two-handed slam.

Guerrier is getting close to becoming the fourth Illini to hit double figures, with the 6-foot-8 forward up to eight points and four rebounds. Shannon has 16 points, Marcus Domask has 15 points and Coleman Hawkins has 11 points as the Illini and Dukes are essentially trading baskets through the first five minutes of the second half.

***

Make shots, play sound defense and keep Duquesne from enjoying a rebounding advantage.

Illinois is doing all three at a high level, and it's why the Illini are one half away from clinching the program's first Sweet 16 trip in almost two decades.

Terrence Shannon Jr. leads a trio of Illini in double figures with 14 points, while Marcus Domask has 13 points and Coleman Hawkins has 11 points.

Dain Dainja has yet to miss a shot in the NCAA tournament, with six points in the first half on 3 of 3 shooting from the field. Dainja scored 21 points during the Illini's 85-69 win against Morehead State on Thursday in the first round and made all nine of his shots in that victory.

About the only negative in the first half for Illinois (and it's a slight one): Hawkins, Quincy Guerrier and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn all picked up two fouls. But with Illinois holding a 24-point lead at halftime, a trip to Boston and a game on Thursday night against No. 2 seed Iowa State at TD Garden seems likely.

Illinois is shooting an absurd 67 percent from the field, making 20 of 30 from the field, and limiting Duquesne to only 34 percent from the field (10 of 29).

"The big thing is we got stops, and that allows us to get out and run," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said at halftime in a TV interview. "It's a 40-minute game. We're only halfway through. We've got to keep our foot down and be really, really good on the defensive side."

***

Illinois almost has three players in double figures at the last media timeout of the first half, a key reason why the Illini have doubled up Duquesnse so far and seem only one more steady half of basketball away from reaching the Sweet 16.

Coleman Hawkins has 11 points on a trio of three-pointers, Terrence Shannon Jr. has 10 points and Marcus Domask has nine points to go along with three assists and two steals.

The Illini are shooting better from the field (16 of 24, 67 percent) than they are from the free throw line (3 of 5, 60 percent) and are holding Duquesnes to only 35 percent (8 of 23) from the field.

***

The last time Illinois reached the Sweet 16, Dee Brown and Co. beat Nevada 71-59 during the second round of the 2005 NCAA tournament.

This year's Illini are on pace to easily surpass that margin of victory as they're trying to get the program back to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years.

So far, so good.

Coleman Hawkins is up to 11 points after making his third three-pointer, Terrence Shannon Jr. has 10 points and the Illini are getting whatever they want against an overmatched Duquesne team.

***

Terrence Shannon Jr. is already up to 10 points, his 39th consecutive game in double figures, and the Illini lad has ballooned at the second media timeout. Shannon made his first three-pointer from the top of the key, with Duquense having no answer to stop the Illinois offense.

Illinois is 11 of 17 from the field (67 percent), and Duquesne is just 4 of 11 from the field (36 percent). The Illini are just as efficient from three-point range, making 4 of 6 so far from beyond the arc.

"We're able to do that because we're doing it at the defensive side," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in a TV interview at the midway point of the first half. "We've got to rebound against these guys."

***

A Dain Dainja two-handed dunk off a sweet feed by Marcus Domask. Two three-pointers from Coleman Hawkins. Superb defense.

Everything that could go right is for Illinois so far in its second-round NCAA tournament game against Duquesne on Saturday night, with the Illini enjoying a 24-9 lead and prompting Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot to call an early timeout to try and stem the Illini's stellar start.

Illinois didn't lead Morehead State by double digits until well into the second half of its first-round win on Thursday.

It took just a little more than six minutes for the Illini to build a 10-point lead against Duquesne on Saturday night, with Terrence Shannon Jr. finishing a traditional three-point play to put Illinois up 16-6 with 13:58 left in the first half.

Dainja followed up that with his first points of the night on an easy flush off a sweet bounce pass from Domask, and then Hawkins drained his first two three-pointers of the game.

***

Marcus Domask came ready to play. Much like his teammates, and Illinois has led so far against Duquesne.

Domask has five points, Terrence Shannon Jr. has four points and Coleman Hawksin and Quincy Guerrier each have two points apiece.

Unlike on Thursday, when Illinois trailed Morehead State 9-0 before its first basket, Illinois took the first lead of tonight's game on a 10-foot jump shot by Domask 35 seconds into the game.

He then sank a three-pointer from the top of the key that took a few bounces off the friendly rims Domask and Luke Goode have talked about all week at CHI Health Center to put the Illini up 5-2 with 18:26 to play in the first half.

Illinois is 6 of 11 from the field so far and has outrebonded Duquesne 7-1 through the first five minutes.

***

Same five starters for Illinois as it has done much of the season: Terrence Shannon Jr., Ty Rodgers, Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins.

Here's a bit more to know about Duquesne starters:

No. 1: Guard Jimmy Clark III, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound 22-year-old from Covington, Ga., who went to Northwest Florida State (JUCO home of former Illini Andres Feliz). Averages 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

No. 3: Guard Dae Dae Grant, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound 22-year-old from Lorain, Ohio, who started his college career at Miami (Ohio). Averages 16.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Has a team-high 83 three-pointers.

No. 44: Guard Jake DiMichele, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound 20-year-old from McKees Rocks, Pa., in his first season of college basketball. Averages 6.5 points, 2.6 rebound and 1.0 assists.

No. 2: Forward David Dixon, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound 20-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., in his second season with the Dukes. Averages 7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists.

No. 34: Forward Fousseyni Drame, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound 23-year-old from Bamako, Mali. On his third college after spending last season at La Salle and previous three seasons at Saint Peter's (yes, he was part of the Peacocks' run to the Elite Eight in 2022). Averages 6.8 points 5.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists.

Once again, the #Illini are en route pic.twitter.com/WeR7iz6T3Y

— Zach Piatt (@zachpiatt13) March 23, 2024

***

If Illinois beats Duquesne (and yes, the game still has to unfold), the Illini at least know their opponent in the Sweet 16. Even got an up-close view on Saturday night when second-seeded Iowa State defeated seventh-seeded Washington State 67-56 at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Neb.

Ironically, the East Region games in Omaha are the only first- and second-round site of the eight that are playing host to NCAA tournament games this weekend where the two teams who will meet in the Sweet 16 played in the same building on the opening weekend. For what that's worth.

Illinois has played Iowa State 14 times in its history, owning an 11-3 advantage against the Cyclones. The most recent meeting between the two schools happened on Nov. 20, 2018 in the Maui Invite when Talen Horton-Tucker and the Cyclones cruised past the Illini 84-68. Iowa State has won the last two matchups, with the last Illinois win happening back on Dec. 30, 1985 with a 64-62 win against the Cyclones in Rosemont. Ken Norman had 16 points and nine rebounds in that win from nearly 39 years ago. Again, for what that's worth.

But it won't be worth much

***

The Illini will play the winner of second-seeded Iowa State and seventh-seeded Washington State, which is happening right now at CHI Health Center before the Illini (27-8) tip off against Duquesne (25-11).

And if No. 3 Illinois can get past the 11th-seeded Dukes, it looks like it'll play Iowa State on Thursday night in Boston in the Sweet 16. Iowa State has overcome a slow start and leads Washington State 56-48 with 5:22 left in the second half.

***

It's no secret what the stakes are for tonight's game in Omaha. Brad Underwood has put Illinois back on the college basketball map in the past five seasons. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed the 2019-20 Illini of their shot at the NCAA tournament, but each successive season has ended in March disappointment.

A second-round loss to Loyola Chicago in 2021. A second-round loss to Houston in 2022 (after barely getting past Chattanooga). And a first-round loss to Arkansas in 2023.

Brad Underwood channeled his inner Mark McGwire this week. He wasn't here to talk about the past. An NCAA tournament past he said had no bearing on this year's team. Not entirely untrue. Several of these Illini weren't around to experience those NCAA tournament losses. Coleman Hawkins stands alone in that regard. He saw them all.

Standing between Illinois and its first Sweet 16 appearance is Duquesne. The Dukes were the surprise winners of the Atlantic-10 tournament. Then "upset" BYU in the first round here in Omaha on Thursday. A pesky defensive team with two good guards in Dae Dae Grant and Jimmy Clark III and a well-known coach in Keith Dambrot (he coached LeBron James in high school) that announced his retirement earlier this week.

So maybe not an easy, easy path to Boston for Illinois. We'll find out tonight.