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Notes: Purdue succeeds in limiting Illinois in transition

Mar. 5—CHAMPAIGN — Illinois has burned team after team in transition this season.

Mostly because it has one of the most electric players in the country in those situations. Terrence Shannon Jr. is the latest in the line of "one-man fast break" guards for the Illini.

Purdue held Illinois to just two fast break points on Tuesday night. A key reason the Boilermakers were able to hold a high-scoring Illini offense to 71 points and ultimately leave State Farm Center with a win.

"I think taking care of the basketball and not letting them get as many transition opportunities was the biggest piece of it," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. The Boilermakers finished the game with just eight turnovers.

"Try to keep them off the glass and keep them out of transition and make them earn everything. And not foul (Marcus) Domask. He is such a tough cover. I didn't think we could handle him one-on-one. If he was going to get deep, I wanted to bring Zach and some size."

Illinois fumbled some of the transition opportunities it did get against Purdue. That played a part in the Illini's 12 total turnovers for the game.

"We turned it over every time we had it in transition," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "It killed us."

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Amani Hansberry played just four minutes against Purdue. The Illinois freshman forward was efficient in his role — namely fouling Zach Edey. Hansberry had four fouls in his limited run.

"You want to make him work," Underwood said of Edey. "Amani is really, really strong. Then you've got to get to a point where, realistically, (Edey's) not a great free throw shooter. You can get one point out of a possession. We had to get them to the bonus. We had to work to try to work to get them closer to shooting free throws if we needed it."

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Coleman Hawkins said he was basically playing on one leg in early November. The 6-foot-10 senior forward had just one point in 14 minutes in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, bounced back four night later for a better performance against Oakland and then struggled playing 30 minutes against Marquette.

Hawkins sat the next three games. Illinois didn't need him against Valparaiso, Southern and Western Illinois, and he was able to at least get a handle on the tendinitis plaguing his left knee. He's played every game since, averaging 33 minutes per game, despite his knee not being 100 percent.

"It still bothers me, but I've played through," Hawkins said. "I haven't been able to jump well at all. I've been very limited this year. When I first came back, I felt good, but when you're constantly running and jumping and doing the same movements the stuff kind of catches up to you. So I've kind of been limited defensively."

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The success Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon have had in their singular season at Illinois has been a real boost to Underwood's hit rate on graduate transfers.

Mark Alstork was the first and also faced the most challenging circumstances. The former Ball State and Wright State guard played at Illinois in Underwood's first season. The initial stage of the program overhaul ended in a 14-18 season and 11th place finish in the Big Ten. Alstork started every game for the Illini but couldn't recreate what had been a stellar final season at Wright State.

Alfonso Plummer was a hit. The 6-1 sharpshooter averaged a career high 14.6 points in 2021-22 for Illinois and was the perfect floor spacer around All-American center Kofi Cockburn as a 41 percent three-point shooter. The Utah transfer even earned Third Team All-Big Ten honors.

Matthew Mayer fell somewhere in between. Illinois might not have reached last season's NCAA tournament without the Baylor transfer, but he struggled mightily at the end of the regular season and in brief Big Ten and NCAA tournament runs.

The transfer portal will remain a significant part of roster building moving forward. One more offseason with available players looking to use their COVID-19 bonus year of eligibility could lead to more one-and-done additions.

"It's about finding the right people," Underwood said. "It's about not just letting this be a stop for a player. It's about finding the players who want to be a part of Illinois basketball and be a part of something that means as much to them as it does for us as a coaching staff being able to coach them and get them through their last year.

"I think it's important that character piece be utilized. I couldn't be happier with how important it is for these guys to be a part of Illini basketball. I think that's helped them have successful careers — whether it's one year or however long it is."

Domask is leaving Champaign with that experience.

"I felt like everybody kind of took me in like I grew up here my whole life," he said. "I felt the love from everybody here and felt like I was a part of the community."

SCOTT RICHEY