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October 25, 2013
Illini defeat McKendree in exhibition
You don't get a ticker tape parade for winning an exhibition game, so John Groce was looking for some improvements after what he saw in the Orange and Blue Scrimmage a week ago. For the most part, he got exactly that in a 101-66 win over an overmatched McKendree University squad. The Illini put four players in double figures led by Tracy Abrams with 16, Jaylon Tate and Rayvonte Rice with 13 apiece and Jon Ekey with 12.
Everyone knows about Abrams and the locals know about Rice, but perhaps the biggest surprise was the play of Jaylon Tate, who has also been outstanding in practice the past couple of weeks. Tate hit all 3 field goal attempts and 6-8 from the line to go along with 3 assists in 25 minutes. Groce called him a fast learner that is a student of the game and that was evident on Thursday evening.
Deep thoughts ..
*The Illini got off to a slow start as McKendree hit 5 of their first 6 3 point attempts and opened up an 11 point lead 8 minutes into the game. During that span Illinois was slow on their closeouts and didn't recognize shooters well. The Illini didn't panic, however, eventually tying the game before a rotation with 4 freshmen, Hill, Nunn, Tate and Colbert, along with Joe Bertrand, went on a 12-4 run in the final 2:51 of the first half to give Illinois a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
*Although they shot 3-18 from 3, Illinois had a lot of good looks that just didn't go down early on. The 3-9 second half is probably more the type of shooting I would expect out of this group, as opposed to the 0-9 first half.
*The Illini really looked to push the ball in transition, and the Bearcat transition defense was not very good, leading to many fast break opportunities in the second half. It was good to see them push it and then finish well, but most of those opportunities aren't opportunities you will see in the B1G.
*There were numerous fouls called both ways, which is a point of emphasis this season to try and shore up the rough play and the clutching and grabbing (Purdue?). It is also going to make it much more difficult to get a charge call due to the rule changes (Duke?). Numerous block calls would have been a charge a year ago. It will be an interesting change in the game.
*The Illinois players definitely looked a little dead legged in this one. Rice 'sprited' himself on a dunk attempt. Nunn didn't fly quite as high as he was a couple of weeks ago. Egwu had a nice lay in move, but didn't get his normal lift. Once regular games start, I would expect a bit more from them.
Player by player
Jon Ekey - Ekey was solid. Very active on the offensive glass, blocked a shot and showed off some hops. He missed a free throw, which is a rarity, and only hit 1-3 from deep, but he has been very consistent in practice. He's a steadying influence for a young team, but will need to show he can do it at the high major level.
Nnanna Egwu - After a dominant performance a week ago in the scrimmage, Egwu was just alright in the scrimmage. It almost appeared like his goal was to get everyone involved, showing a ton of patience in the post and passing out of scoring opportunities at times. He was solid, not spectacular.
Joseph Bertrand - More than half the time he plays, Bertrand leaves you wanting more. The 5th year Senior probably isn't going to gain consistency at this point, but it was nice to see him grab 8 rebounds from the SF position in 24 minutes. He can get to the rim, now he has to understand when it's open and then knock down his free throws once he gets there.
Rayvonte Rice - Rice can get to the rim, no doubt. Will he be able to finish against high major big men? We will see. He definitely needs to make his free throws, and he will need to continue to improve his jumper. The one 3 pointer he took was in and out, but looked good. If he can make perimeter shots it opens up a great deal for him on offense.
Tracy Abrams - After a lackluster scrimmage a week ago, Abrams has looked like a different player in practice and now in the game. Scoring 16 points in 19 minutes with 3 assists and 3 rebounds, he was assertive in attacking the rim, made all 6 free throws and only had 1 turnover. Groce will slide him to the 2 at times, but Illinois really needs him to gain some consistency from behind the arc.
Jaylon Tate - Tate was the surprise of the scrimmage. Perhaps no player has improved as much as Tate has in the past few weeks, and he continues to play with confidence and swagger. Scoring 13 points, he even looked good in hitting a 3 pointer. It's been a while since Illinois had a freshman point guard with the instincts of a true point guard and Tate may be that guy.
Malcolm Hill - Hill continues to improve and now you just want him to be more assertive. The 17 year old is still growing as a person and a player. Last week he couldn't get a flu shot with the team because he didn't have a parental signature. He missed a pair of open 3 pointers, but he can shoot it, and Illinois needs him to shoot it. He will create some mismatch problems with his ball handling and quickness as he plays the PF spot.
Kendrick Nunn - The high flyer is tremendous in transition, but he needs to slash more and shoot fewer jumpers. Five of his 6 attempts were 3 pointers. He can shoot it, but is best when he can be set and ready for a catch and shoot. Defensively, he got into passing lanes and tipped some passes, made some plays. He and Tate play very well together and have some chemistry due to their history together at Simeon.
Maverick Morgan - The big man looked solid in this one, with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks against the undersized Bearcats. He was the first big man off the bench behind Egwu, but played the same minutes as Colbert. The backup Center position is still wide open.
Austin Colbert - The other freshman big man, who is a 4 man masquerading as a 5 man, made things happen when he was on the floor with 8 points. He also showed some youth with a wild 3 point attempt and a couple of silly fouls. He's a definite high major athlete learning how to play at this level.
Mike LaTulip - The forgotten man, walk-on Mike LaTulip missed a pair of 3 pointers and a free throw, which is uncharacteristic. He is a nice luxury to have with the lack of backcourt depth and bodies, but clearly projects as a role player and shooter in this lineup.