March Madness: Terrence Shannon, Illinois still staying quiet about pending rape case ahead of Sweet 16

Terrence Shannon and Illinois will take on Iowa State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday

Content warning: This article contains depictions of alleged sexual assault.

Terrence Shannon is with his team this week, preparing for the Illini’s first Sweet 16 appearance in nearly two decades like all is normal.

But throughout the NCAA tournament, whether they fall to Iowa State on Thursday in Boston or they make it through to the national championship game next month in Phoenix, Shannon will be quiet.

Shannon “will remain unavailable to the media” throughout the postseason on “the advice of his legal counsel,” the Illini announced before the tournament started. Shannon, who was charged with rape in Kansas in December before a brief legal battle allowed him back on the court the next month, hasn’t spoken about his case other than a brief social media post in January.

That strategy, for better or worse, is what both he and Illinois are sticking to.

“I’ve said many times, I’m a college basketball coach,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said Wednesday from TD Garden. “When we found out, it was our athletic director Josh Whitman that informed me. Then it was a decision that was made by the university, and then obviously taken to the courts, and I’ve said all along I was going to coach the guys I had in the locker room. I was going to be the best supporter of those guys that I coach every day. We had to find a way to flourish through those tough times.

“Then he came back and joined us, he was a part of our team again. He has always been a great teammate. We got him back, and here we sit today.”

Terrence Shannon’s arrest, legal battle

Shannon’s legal troubles date back to an incident in a Lawrence, Kansas, bar in September.

Shannon was in Kansas for the Jayhawks’ football game against Illinois on Sept. 8, and he went to a bar near campus that night. The alleged victim told police that a man, who she later identified through photos and social media as Shannon, groped her under her skirt and underwear and sexually assaulted her in the crowded bar. She reported the incident to police the next day, and visited a local hospital for a sexual assault examination.

Shannon’s lawyers have repeatedly said he is innocent, and pointed to the lack of witness testimony and very clear surveillance evidence as “the alleged incident occurred in a very public bar,” they wrote in a court filing.

Illinois, however, suspended Shannon indefinitely on Dec. 28 after an arrest warrant was issued in Kansas. He quickly filed a motion with a federal judge, and he was granted a temporary restraining order that forced Illinois to reinstate him on Jan. 19. Shannon, the judge said in her ruling, would “suffer irreparable harm without an injunction.”

Shannon missed six games in total during that suspension. He returned to help Illinois beat Rutgers on Jan. 21, and received a standing ovation from the home crowd in Champaign. Three days later, though, he was heckled hard on the road in Evanston, Ill., throughout Northwestern’s upset win.

Shannon’s case is still pending, and he’s not due in court again until May.

Terrence Shannon and Illinois will take on Iowa State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
Terrence Shannon and Illinois will take on Iowa State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images) (Michael Reaves via Getty Images)

Shannon led Illinois to the Sweet 16

While Illinois largely managed to hang on without him during the suspension, he’s a huge reason why the Illini were able to make their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005 this spring.

Shannon averaged a team-high 23.3 points, which is the third-highest output in the country behind only Denver’s Tommy Bruner and Purdue’s Zach Edey. He led the Illini past Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament title game with 34 points, which came a day after he dropped 40 to push them past Nebraska in the semifinals.

Illinois rolled to a pair of dominant wins in the NCAA tournament, too. It beat both Morehead State and Duquesne by double digits in the first two rounds, where Shannon averaged 28 points per game.

“He has done a great job of just being a dominant player,” teammate Coleman Hawkins said Wednesday. “I feel like a lot of times it gets tough in the postseason because everybody knows your actions, but we've been keeping everything pretty simple. He's done a great job of being a reliable source to go out and score at any given moment, whether a play breaks down or not. Seeing his speed, his physicality dominate matchups, it's been really great to see for sure.”

The Illini will take on Iowa State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. A win would send them to the Elite Eight for the first time since they reached the national championship game under Bruce Weber in 2005.

Though he’s had plenty going on off the court, Shannon seems to have found a way to put it behind him during the second half of the season. More eyes are on him now that they’ve reached the regional round of the tournament, but his strategy isn’t changing. He’s sticking only to basketball for the time being.