23 dunks, 25 games


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CHAMPAIGN — The highlights played as one Flyin' Illini after another has been honored at State Farm Center this season have been telling.

Those guys literally flew. Just dunk after dunk after dunk.

Kenny Battle throwing down in-game 360s.

Nick Anderson putting a defender on a poster after taking off a couple steps inside the free throw line.

Kendall Gill gliding for lefty dunk after lefty dunk.

Lowell Hamilton flying out of nowhere to slam home a tip dunk.

Marcus Liberty and Stephen Bardo with a head of steam and a way above-the-rim finish.

The Flyin' Illini earned that moniker. That team was celebrated the last five Illinois home games with a new set of bobbleheads. A full celebration is scheduled for next Saturday when the Illini face Penn State. Odds are there will be fewer dunks in that game. Illinois just doesn't throw it down much. Except for its major upset of then-No. 9 Michigan State on Feb. 5 when Kipper Nichols, Ayo Dosunmu, Giorgi Bezhanishvili (twice) and Tevian Jones collaborated for a season-high five dunks.

It was the most since Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black, Nnanna Egwu and Austin Colbert had one apiece in a 93-45 beatdown of Kennesaw State on Dec. 27, 2014.

While the current Illini have had some serious dunking dry spells this season — four straight games to start the year and a five-game stretch between the end of December and start of January — they got aggressive with the Spartans.

"We haven't really had very many, have we?" Illinois coach Brad Underwood said after the 79-74 win against Michigan State. "We told our guys before the game, 'When you go, you better go strong because this is one of the leading shot-blocking teams in the country. If you go any other way, they're going to block it.'

"I think it was just an aggressive mentality. I hope they like it and that we continue to attack like that."

Illinois has 23 dunks in 25 games this season. That puts them behind last year's pace (45 dunks in 32 games) and more on par with the 2015-16 team (31 dunks in 34 games). But here's a breakdown of the Illini's five best dunks of the year ...

The future

Tevian Jones probably boasts the most pure athleticism on the team. The 6-foot-7 freshman guard showed it off at Madison Square Garden. With Maryland's Darryl Morsell out of line defensively feinting a double team at Aaron Jordan, Jones back cut hard, hauled in the pass from Jordan and threw down a wicked one-handed slam in the Illini's 78-67 upset win.

Power moves

Bezhanishvili finished off an alley-oop for his first dunk against Michigan State, but he created his second. After receiving a pass on the left elbow from Da'Monte Williams, Bezhanishvili used a screen from Trent Frazier on Xavier Tillman and an open lane for a one-dribble and the jam.

Out of nowhere

Jordan had two career dunks heading into Illinois' home game with Rutgers on Feb. 9. He made it three against the Scarlet Knights.

After Dosunmu poked the ball away from Rutgers' Caleb McConnell, Nichols led the fast break and hit Jordan running the left wing with a bounce pass. Jordan hammered it home, while McConnell cleared out to avoid the poster.

The future, Part II

Like Bezhanishvili, freshman center Samba Kane had a twofer against UNLV with the first a finish on an alley-oop. Also like Bezhanishvili, Kane did the heavy lifting for his second. After faking a pinch post handoff to Andres Feliz, Kane took one dribble to get past UNLV's Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and to the rim for a two-handed finish.

Always run the floor

Adonis De La Rosa played what's still a season-high 15 minutes against Xavier in the Maui Invitational. It's only fitting his highlight reel worthy play came in that game.

Dosunmu knifed through three-fifths of the Xavier defense for a fast-break layup attempt that was too hard off the backboard.

De La Rosa trailed the play the whole way, put on a burst of speed when Dosunmu shot and slammed home the two-handed putback tip dunk.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5605, by email at srichey@news-gazette.com and on Twitter@srrichey.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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