Illinois was expected to beat a much improved Bradley squad on Sunday night, so the win isn't surprising. The way the Illini dominated surprised virtually everyone. Leading 9-8, Illinois went on a 10-0 run and then blew it open with some hot second half three-point shooting for an 81-55 win over the previously unbeaten Braves.
Jon Ekey led four Illini in double figures with 19 points on 5-7 shooting from deep, while Rayvonte Rice added 13, Tracy Abrams had 12, and Nnanna Egwu had 10 for the 4th consecutive game.
Here's a look back.
We knew he could shoot, and he makes shots in practice, but Sunday Jon Ekey finally got it rolling in a game. The Illinois State transfer hit 5-7 from deep, and made the offense look quite spectacular at times.
One of the keys for Illinois is to find someone to be a consistent perimeter shooter, and Ekey has the potential to be that guy. He isn't going to hit 5-7 every game, but Ekey is shooting 42% on the season and has hit 7 of 11 since a 1-10 start. When you have a 5th year transfer, this is the type of production you look for.
Defense wins championships
The big key against the Braves was the defensive improvement in the first half. The Illini locked down the Braves in half one which allowed them to make it a laugher shortly after half time. Now, John Groce wasn't happy about the way they finished defensively with a lot of younger guys on the floor, but now he does have some teaching moments.
Although Illinois hasn't been forcing turnovers much at all this season, they have been defending the rim better than ever with the shot blocking of Egwu and the underrated athleticism of Ekey inside, as well as the athletic ability of Rice and Bertrand to alter some shots. Opponents are shooting just 35% from inside the arc.
Crashing the glass
The 4-0 Illini dominated on the glass, outrebounding Bradley 49-25, perhaps most impressive was the 19 offensive rebounds. Right now, this Illini squad is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country. The Illini once again had more offensive rebounds than their opponent had defensive rebounds. Ekey, Egwu, Bertrand and Rice are doing an excellent job attacking the offensive glass and getting tip outs.
On the defensive glass, the Illini are using a rebounding by committee approach. Although Ekey and Egwu have been solid, the defensive rebounding of guys like Abrams, Rice, Bertrand and Hill has allowed them to be solid on the glass on both ends. Abrams grabbed 8 defensive rebounds against Bradley, and highest the highest rebounding rate on the team among the top 6 players.
* Future Illini Michael Finke and D.J. Williams, 2015 guard Aaron Jordan, and 2016 guard Zach Norvell were among the recruits in attendance at the game. Norvell is a teammate of William at Chicago Simeon.
* The Illini scored 81 points on 63 possessions, the slowest pace of the season. That's a very good number of 1.29 PPP. Defensively, they were at 0.88 PPP, the 2nd best number of the early season.
* You have to like the way the Simeon connection played on Sunday. Jaylon Tate dished out six assists and is now 17 to 3 on assist to turnover ratio for the season. Kendrick Nunn finally got it going, with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 13 minutes. He has been struggling with stuff of late, but he will continue to work and get better. We will have more on the freshman growing pains in a story for Tuesday.
* Nnanna Egwu has scored exactly ten points in every game. He's averaging 10 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 3.3 BPG, while shooting 53% from the floor and has just 9 fouls in 4 games. That's consistency. Tracy Abrams has rebounded from a slow start to raise his scoring average to 11.5 PPG, while dishing out 2.7 APG and grabbing 4.8 RPG. Right now, these two are generally the whipping boys for the Illinois fan base, but they have been very good thus far overall.
* The offensive rebounding percentage set a new season high, which means that is two of the four games where they have had a higher OR% than any game since Presbyterian in 2009.