Dainja broke the drought by getting a fadeaway jumper to go down and drawing a foul after grabbing an offensive rebound. He hit the ensuing free throw and Matthew Mayer drilled a 3 on the next possession, part of a 21-4 run the Illini pieced together to take a comfortable 17-point lead into the half.
Illinois scored 28 points off of 24 Kansas City turnovers and limited the Roos to eight points off of 11 turnovers.
“Defense was the thing that changed the game for us today,” Dainja said. “Energy is what I wanted to (bring) to the team.”
The Roos missed 10 of their last 11 shots of the first half and shot 31.3% for the night.
“Tough one for the guys,” first-year Kansas City coach Marvin Menzies said. “I feel bad for the players just because of the lack of ability to show the progress. When you’re rebuilding a program you want to keep taking steps forward. There’s peaks and valleys in a season. The teams that deal with the adversity during the valleys are the teams that end up on top.”
Freshman guard Jayden Epps scored 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting and added three rebounds and three assists.
“(It goes) back to the defense, back to just playing together,” Epps said. “I feel like when we move the ball, play defense, when we play together, we’re just a great team.”
Another freshman guard, Skyy Clark, added 10 points and five rebounds with zero turnovers after he committed five in his Illinois debut on Monday.
Plenty of questions have hovered over how Illinois will replace the production and influence of former center Kofi Cockburn.
Dainja appears to have some answers.
“I definitely learned a lot from him, but I work hard,” Dainja said. “I’ve been working hard all whole life. This is starting to pay off.”
Dainja had a career-high five blocked shots.
Illinois honored its 2021 Big Ten regular season championship team on Friday as former players Trent Frazier, Kofi Cockburn, Da’Monte Williams and Alfonso Plummer returned to campus to see the championship banner raised.
After the game, Underwood said he “got in this 36 years ago for nights like tonight.”
“To see young people create a memory, five years worth to be honest, for Trent and Da’Monte,” Underwood said. “The (tribute) video was incredible.”
Kansas City: The Roos made it difficult on the Illini early on with a strong effort on the glass and by mixing in some zone, despite being clearly outmatched. Menzies’ group seems to lack perimeter shooters, which also showcased itself in a 59-56 loss to Division II Lincoln (Missouri) on Monday when the Roos went 5 of 25 from long distance.
Illinois: The result was hardly ever in question Friday, but this Illinois team seems to be struggling with shot selection so far against mid-major opponents. That will have to improve if the Illini are going to show well in Las Vegas in games against No. 12 Texas and either No. 5 Baylor or No. 18 Virginia later this month.
Kansas City: Hosts Calvary Bible, which plays in the Association of Christian College Athletics, on Monday.