CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Skyy Clark scored a career-high 19 points, RJ Melendez had a career-high 17 and No. 16 Illinois cruised past Lindenwood 92-59 on Friday night.
“It’s really good to see RJ get going,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He and I had a meeting, and he responded in a really really good way. He just showed up, buckled down and worked. I thought he was aggressive, and yet, didn’t force things.”
Clark shot at an efficient 8-of-9 clip and went 3 of 4 from long distance.
“He was just a type of guy who was a little bit shy to take those types of shots and all that, but he’s gained a lot of confidence,” Melendez said. “From the scrimmage versus Kansas to now, I see a whole different Skyy.”
Lindenwood (3-5) hit three of its first four shots to take a 7-6 lead, but it was short-lived. Illinois (5-1) quickly seized a 22-13 lead, starting the game 10 of 15 from the field and shooting 63.6% in the first half.
Forward Dain Dainja came up with a steal in the lane and flipped the ball upcourt to Sincere Harris, who dumped a behind-the-back pass to Melendez for an emphatic dunk at the 12:45 mark.
Melendez cleared his previous career high of 13 points by the 4:07 mark of the first half. He finished 7 of 11 for the night and added four rebounds.
Forward Keenon Cole led the Lions with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
“I thought we made some defensive mistakes (in the first half), and obviously their talent still takes over and their ability to make you pay is a lot greater than some teams,” fourth-year Lindenwood coach Kyle Gerdeman said.
Freshman Jayden Epps had a pair of layups and Shannon drilled a 3 to cap a 22-4 run late in the half, and Illinois took a 49-25 lead into the break.
Illinois began the second half on a 13-2 run to take a 35-point lead, starting on a vicious, one-handed dunk from Clark. Shannon stole the Lions’ inbound pass and scored an and-one layup three seconds later.
Lindenwood: The Lions have no reason to hang their heads after a buy-game loss on short rest following Wednesday’s overtime win over Idaho State. Lindenwood also fared better against the Illini than in 2019, when the Lions were on the receiving end of a 52-point thrashing.
Illinois: Brad Underwood’s group looks sharp after splitting a pair of ranked contests in Las Vegas and dominating a brand new Division I program. No holiday hangover.
Lindenwood: Hosts East-West University of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday night.
Illinois: Struggling Syracuse visits Tuesday night for an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup.
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