For Illini players striving to impress the new basketball coach, Monday night was just another in a long line of efforts to earn his trust.
For Champaign’s Rayvonte Rice, the Orange & Blue Scrimmage was his only official appearance this season.
“I played at the Assembly Hall three times in high school,” the Centennial product said, “and it feels great to be back home and playing for the home state.”
Three early misses from beyond the arc indicated his nervousness, coach John Groce saying: “He did some good things, but we want him to attack more. His shot selection can be better. This was his one chance and he looked like he wanted to get his money’s worth. He’ll be a big part of our future.”
Rice averaged 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds as a sophomore at Drake before transferring. For an Illini team with no scholarship freshmen, he is critical to the future operation. He has been one of the leading scorers in offseason workouts.
Rice racked seven points Monday for the Blue team, which lost all four eight-minute quarters to an Orange squad made up mostly of anticipated starters.
“I like this system because it spreads the floor and lets people do what they can do,” Rice said. “My job from now on is to help this team get better in practice.”
Talkin’ about practice
Groce’s decision to start and finish with the quintet of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Nnanna Egwu, Myke Henry and Joseph Bertrand was rewarded by their generally solid though unspectacular play. That’s the likely lineup for Saturday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game with Lewis.
“Those five graded out the highest in practice,” the coach said, “not only in the box score but in all things together. We’re trying to establish a mind-set that practice matters. We’ll continue to evaluate.”
Egwu and Richardson were Monday’s standouts, Egwu nailing seven baskets in nine attempts while Richardson drained 18 points for the Orange.
“D.J. was attacking,” Groce said. “He shot 10 free throws in 32 minutes. He is a threat behind the line, and his ability to dribble-drive would complement his long-range game.”
Offsetting positive comments with negatives, Groce said:
“Rebounding in practice hasn’t been good, but I thought we were much better on the glass tonight. Of course, we have to ask, ‘Did we block out?’
“I thought we showed great effort and I loved our unselfishness.
“But early on, we shot too many threes, and our offensive ball screens and our out-of-bounds execution were bad. As for tempo, we didn’t run like I want us to.”
Quarter 1: Richardson bagged a trey and three free throws in a 14-10 Orange win that ended with Paul’s runner and lob lay-in. The Orange scored the last eight points after Devin Langford’s trey put the Blue ahead 10-6.
Quarter 2: Egwu dominated with a lay-in and rebound early and two more baskets late as the Orange ruled 16-5. Tracy Abrams moved to the point for the Orange in this quarter and contributed a fast-break goal but, judging overall on this night, didn’t appear to make gains on Paul at the point.
Quarter 3: Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin switched to Orange jerseys and they hung on 14-13 despite Rice’s steal-layup and three-pointer in the closing minutes. Henry began to perk up in this quarter with a rebound goal and a fadeaway, and Richardson drained another big trey. Paul, serving with the Blue, saw his last-second drive roll off in the one-point decision.
Said Groce of Henry: “If you asked our staff, they’d tell you that Henry has been the biggest surprise in terms of his production in practice. He’s been shooting a high percentage and has been our leading rebounder.”
Quarter 4: With the starting lineup intact, the Orange rolled 16-9 with walk-on sub Mike LaTulip helping out. He and Bertrand hit late threes and Bertrand closed it out on a drive.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.