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NCAA tournament preview | No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 Morehead State; 2:15 p.m., Thursday

Mar. 20—Beat writer Scott Richey breaks down the first round game between the Illini and Eagles:

Lineups

Illinois (26-8)

Starters

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G/F Marcus Domask Gr. 6-6 16.0 Waupun, Wis.

G Terrence Shannon Jr. Sr. 6-6 23.0 Chicago

G/F Ty Rodgers So. 6-6 6.7 Saginaw, Mich.

F Quincy Guerrier Gr. 6-8 10.0 Montreal

F Coleman Hawkins Sr. 6-10 12.4 Sacramento, Calif.

FYI: Shannon and Guerrier have experienced the most NCAA tournament success in their careers, with each boasting a Sweet 16 run. Albeit not at Illinois, of course. Shannon helped Texas Tech reach the second weekend in his final season at Texas Tech, with the Red Raiders bowing out in the Sweet 16 to Duke. Guerrier was on the 2020-21 Syracuse team that lost to Houston in the Sweet 16.

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Justin Harmon Gr. 6-4 6.1 Chicago

F/C Dain Dainja R-Jr. 6-9 5.8 Brooklyn Park, Minn.

G Luke Goode Jr. 6-7 5.8 Fort Wayne, Ind.

Morehead State (26-8)

Starters

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Drew Thelwell Sr. 6-3 10.0 Orlando, Fla.

G Jordan Lathon Gr. 6-5 15.4 Grandview, Mo.

G Kalil Thomas Gr. 6-5 12.5 New Orleans

G Riley Minix Gr. 6-7 20.8 Vero Beach, Fla.

F Dieonte Miles Gr. 7-0 5.1 Walton, Ky.

FYI: Thomas ranks ninth nationally in three-point shooting at 43.5 percent this season. Nearly 80 percent of his shot attempts have come from three-point range this season, and he enters the NCAA tournament shooting 54.3 percent from beyond the arc in his last 10 games on seven attempts per game.

Off the bench

P Name Yr. Ht. PPG Hometown

G Eddie Ricks III Fr. 6-7 7.5 Clarksville, Tenn.

F Zach Iyeyemi Gr. 6-9 2.5 Houston

G Jerone Morton Fr. 6-4 2.3 Winchester, Ky.

Details

Site: CHI Health Center (17,560); Omaha, Neb.

Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Deon Thomas (analysis) will have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDWS 93.9-FM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WPXN 104.9-FM, WDAN-1490-AM and WDNL 102.1-FM.

TV: Tom McCarthy (play-by-play), Deb Antonelli and Avery Johnson (analysis) and AJ Ross (sideline reports) will have the call on truTV.

Series: Illinois leads 1-0.

Last meeting: Illinois won 110-75 on Dec. 10, 1993, in Champaign, with Deon Thomas scoring 26 points on 11 of 13 shooting in just 18 minutes.

FYI: This is Morehead State's ninth NCAA tournament appearance (and Illinois' 34th). The Eagles have made it out of the first round three times, with an upset of No. 4 Louisville in 2011, and have two Sweet 16 appearances in 1956 and 1961.

Beat writer Scott Richey's storylines

Rodgers thriving without being a shooter

Ty Rodgers has attempted just one three-pointer in 67 career games at Illinois. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward missed that single shot last season and hasn't attempted one since. Doesn't even shoot them during warmups. Wings that are limited shooters are few and far between in college basketball in 2024, but Rodgers has made it work. He averaged nine points and 9.3 rebounds during the Illini's run to the Big Ten tournament title and posted his third double-double of the season in the quarterfinals. "I play hard, you know, and I'm a winner," Rodgers said. "I think everybody knows that. Every coach in the country wanted me coming out of high school. People knew I wasn't a great shooter. People know I have a great work ethic and know I'm going to be 110 percent every time I step on the floor. I'm a winner, and that's what everybody wants. "

No quit in this Illinois team

Illinois faced a moment in every Big Ten tournament game it played where it would have been, as veteran guard Marcus Domask said, "really easy to fold and pack it up and accept defeat." But three double-digit deficits in three consecutive second halves didn't faze this Illini team. Teams from previous seasons in the last few years? Rallying in each game, ultimately winning the title, might not have happened. "(Wisconsin guard Max) Klesmit hit two big, tough threes, and nobody hung their head," Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins said. "We came down, and we scored the ball. Then we ended up getting stops. I feel like sometimes in my career there's been moments where those threes would have just destroyed everything, and we would have lost that game because we weren't connected. (Sunday) we saw the end result. You saw nobody hung their head. We kept playing. Ultimately, we played hard, and we were able to get a win. So nobody's quit on anybody."

Domask's steady presence important

Domask's "get adjusted" period lasted just more than two weeks at the beginning of the season, and even that stretch included an 18-point performance against Marquette. Since? Domask has averaged 17.7 points — better than any season he had at Southern Illinois — as he's been a constant for the Illini this season in a season not short on challenges. His assimilation into the program — along with that of Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon — was seamless. "It's easy when you've got such good players and such good guys," Illinois guard Luke Goode said. "Character is a big thing these days — especially with the transfer portal. You never know what you're going to get. When you get selfless guys who come into the program and all they do is contribute to winning, it makes it easy for the rest of us."

The News-Gazette's pick

Illinois 79, Morehead State 65

Morehead State went 0-3 against Big Ten teams during the regular season losing to Purdue (87-57), Penn State (74-51) and Indiana (69-68). The Eagles also have one of the better scorers in the country in Riley Minix. So it might not be a walkover in the first round for Illinois. That doesn't change the fact the Illini are a significant favorite and just saw Terrence Shannon Jr. go off for 102 points in three games in Minneapolis, but it's worth noting slow-it-down Morehead State could make it interesting. (N-G prediction record: 30-4)