CHAMPAIGN — Twice during No. 10 Illinois’ 64-54 win against Norfolk State on Tuesday, the 14,144 fans inside the Assembly Hall broke into an eerie silence.
The first time was late in the first half when senior guard D.J. Richardson lay on the court grabbing the back of his neck.
Late in the second half, point guard Tracy Abrams limped off the court with a shin injury. Both returned to the game and were instrumental in the Illini moving to 11-0.
Richardson was treated in the days after the game for an upper-shoulder contusion, Abrams for a shin contusion. Both are fine and expected to be in the starting lineup when Illinois hosts Eastern Kentucky (9-0) on Sunday (5 p.m., ESPNU).
“They’ve been full-go; all week they’ve been full-go. Both of them have practiced really well, really hard,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Both have been two of our more vocal guys in practice and communicating. Obviously, that brings an energy to our practice. Both those guys are doing great.”
Abrams’ injury happened while he and Norfolk State’s Malcolm Hawkins went airborne for a loose ball. Richardson’s injury occurred when he was turning to run upcourt on offense and collided with Hawkins.
In reviewing the film, Richardson said Hawkins’ intent was to make contact with him.
“It was intentional. We didn’t want to take it as far as it needed to go. I’m a tough kid,” Richardson said. “If it was a Big Ten game, we probably would have reported it. It’s basketball; it was an aggressive play. I don’t really care; it’s part of basketball.”
Eastern Kentucky has forced 19.3 turnovers per game, which ranks second in the country. The Illini average 12 turnovers per game.
The Colonels mix between a 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man.
“They pressure the ball hard; they make passing and catching hard,” Groce said. “They have some individual players within their personnel that are really gifted and have active hands … Taking care of the ball is obviously important.
“When you’re second in the country in anything through nine games, obviously you’ve been pretty consistent in that particular area. I certainly think it’s one of the strengths, if not the strength, of their defense is the fact that they do force turnovers that lead to easy baskets.”