Illini's Shannon enters March Madness playing his best. Criminal charge keeps him quiet off court

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A placard with Terrence Shannon Jr.'s name hung over a stall in the Illinois locker room at CHI Health Center on Wednesday. An empty folding chair was beneath it.

The Illini's biggest star was nowhere to be found during the team's March Madness media availability the day before it opens the NCAA Tournament against Morehead State.

Shannon has been the invisible man everywhere except on the basketball court since he was charged with rape or an alternative count of sexual battery in Kansas in December stemming from an alleged incident in September. He hasn't spoken to the media since.

“Be advised that Terrence Shannon Jr. will remain unavailable to the media, pursuant to the advice of his legal counsel,” read a statement in Illinois' pretournament media packet.

If his legal entanglement has been a distraction, his teammates said, he hasn't shown it.

“Not at all,” Ty Rodgers said. “He's kept it team first.”

Shannon averaged 34 points per game while earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the Big Ten Tournament. No player in the country who appeared in more than one game in a conference tournament had a higher average.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood said he had never seen Shannon play a better stretch of games. The Illini had to come back from double-digit deficits in the second halves of all three games to win the tournament, so the situation called for it.

“He’s doing what great players do in big moments, and that’s rise to the occasion,” Underwood said. “That was special watching that.”

Illinois trailed Ohio State by 10 points with 11 minutes left on Friday. Shannon, who finished with 28 points, scored 14 of the Illini's last 31 in a 77-74 win.

The Illini were down 15 early against Nebraska before winning 98-87. Shannon scored 22 of his career-high, tournament-record 40 in the second half and delivered a dagger 3-pointer that put the game away.

“The 40-point game was very organic,” Underwood said. "We don’t run a ton (of plays) for him. Looking at the box score at the end of the game, it was: ‘Oh, wow. He had a night.’ He did it in all different facets with the 3s, transition, getting to the foul line. Very efficient.”

Illinois rallied from 10 points down to beat Wisconsin 93-87 in the championship game. Shannon had 19 of his 34 points in the second half.

Shannon draws an average of 7.1 fouls per game, one of the highest figures in the country, and he capitalized last weekend. An 81% free-throw shooter, he made a combined 27 of 31 in the second halves of the three games and 38 of 44 overall.

Luke Goode said he and his teammates want Shannon to initiate the offense in transition and attack the basket to get to the line.

“We get him the ball and let him go to work," Goode said. “That’s really kind of what’s changed a little bit. Find him in the open floor, and he takes care of the rest.”

Shannon played in the Illini's first 11 games before the university suspended him from team activities when the criminal charge was filed against him. He returned after six games when a federal judge intervened, ruling that his civil rights were violated by a lack of due process.

Illinois went 4-2 without Shannon. Southern Illinois transfer Marcus Domask, who had averaged 11.6 points per game before Shannon's suspension, averaged 20.8 over the six games he was out. Quincy Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins were among others who upped their production.

Underwood said Shannon's absence helped other players develop.

“We were finding our identity right then on the offensive side,” he said. “We continued to flourish. We went into shock a little bit our first road game at Purdue without him. There was a sense of swagger he gave us. We were down 24, I think. But from that point on, I think we got better.”

Four of Shannon's six 30-point games this season have come since Feb. 15. Since March 1, he's averaging 26.8 points per game — Purdue's Zach Edey is the only Power Five player scoring more — and shooting 40% on 3s and 87% from the line.

“Terrence is really grateful to be back with us,” Guerrier said. “He’s been tremendous for us. He’s just ready to win.”


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