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Final: No. 10 Illinois 66, Eastern Kentucky 53
CHAMPAIGN — Brandon Paul scored 17 points, Tracy Adams added 13 and No. 10 Illinois pulled away late to remain unbeaten Sunday night.
In a game between undefeated teams, the Illini led by 11 early but needed a late 12-2 run to gain control and help John Groce become only the second coach in Illinois history to win his first 12 games. Groce matched the school record for the best start by a first-year coach set by Fletcher Lane in 1907.
Joseph Bertrand chipped in with 11 points for Illinois.
Corey Walden scored 21 points and Glenn Cosey had 11 for the Colonels (9-1), who came in riding the school's best start in 66 years. Eastern Kentucky hadn't won nine straight games since the 1964-65 season.
Groce wore an orange sport coat for the first time and stood for pictures before the game with Lou Henson, the legendary Illini coach who made the orange wardrobe his trademark.
Illinois stretched its regular season, nonconference winning streak at home to 33 games, but the Illini have been unable to duplicate their strong road performances at home. Illinois rolled through the Maui Invitational, winning its first title there to break into the Top 25, and an 11-point win at Gonzaga last weekend lifted the Illini into the Top 10.
But the team's play has been underwhelming during the home schedule.
The Illini raced to a 17-6 lead but had trouble putting away the Colonels. The Illini were 2 of 13 from the three-point line with 10 turnovers in the first half. Eastern Kentucky scored 11 points off those turnovers to keep it close.
The Colonels cut the margin to 42-38 on a three-point play by Walden. But moments later Abrams scored seven points during the key surge for the 54-40 lead. — AP
E. KENTUCKY (9-1)
Muff 0-2 1-2 1, Stutz 2-5 2-4 6, Cosey 4-13 0-1 11, DiNunno 1-13 0-0 2, T. Johnson 1-4 0-3 3, Walden 9-13 2-3 21, Lewis 2-5 0-0 4, J. Johnson 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 21-58 5-13 53.
Griffey 2-4 0-0 5, Egwu 3-4 1-2 7, Richardson 1-5 2-2 5, Paul 6-14 3-4 17, Abrams 5-8 2-2 13, McLaurin 2-2 0-1 4, Bertrand 4-5 2-2 11, Henry 2-7 0-0 4, Langford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-50 10-13 66.
Halftime—Illinois 25-20. 3-Point Goals—E. Kentucky 6-22 (Cosey 3-7, J. Johnson 1-1, T. Johnson 1-3, Walden 1-4, Lewis 0-2, DiNunno 0-5), Illinois 6-23 (Paul 2-8, Bertrand 1-1, Griffey 1-3, Abrams 1-3, Richardson 1-5, Henry 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—E. Kentucky 23 (Lewis 7), Illinois 42 (Paul 9). Assists—E. Kentucky 8 (DiNunno 5), Illinois 16 (Richardson 7). Total Fouls—E. Kentucky 16, Illinois 15. A—15,029.
No. 10 Illinois 40, Eastern Kentucky 33 — 11:32 second half
Assistant Dustin Ford alerted the officials early in the second half that there was an inadvertent reset of the shot clock on an EKU possession. It went from 21 seconds down to 7 seconds.
What gets lost in some of these ugly offensive performances is how well Illinois plays defensively. The 20 first-half points allowed was a season low. Western Carolina scored 22.
Part of the reason the Illini are so good defensively is the scouting reports. Brandon Miller does the advance scouting. So many times, the Illinois coaches will yell to their players exactly what the opposition is going to do as the play is developing. It happened today “Nnanna, coming to you!” Egwu knew what was coming and ended up getting a block. Another one on the next possession, they yelled “Back door!” and EKU couldn’t execute the play.
Nnanna Egwu is shooting the ball from midrange with a lot of confidence.
A Brandon Paul three extended the Illinois lead to 34-22 with 15:52 to play and sent the 15,029 into a frenzy. The largest crowd of the season has been waiting for something to happen for it to erupt.
Lou Henson got a bigger ovation when he was shown on the big screen.
“Hey, fresh bodies, let’s go!” Groce yelled and Joseph Bertrand and Sam McLaurin jumped up immediately from the bench. So did Myke Henry.
Former Illini baseball star Willie Argo is here. Willie hit .301 while playing centerfield in his first season of pro baseball at the rookie level for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Illini are 6 for 7 from the floor in the half. The only miss was a Brandon Paul three-pointer that Joseph Bertrand cleaned up with a bucket.
Joe has 11 points and seven boards. Brandon Paul has nine points and seven boards.
Looks like this one might come down to the wire.
No. 10 Illinois 25, Eastern Kentucky 20 — Halftime
Mike Henry had a big-time rebound and bucket for the Illini off a missed three-pointer by D.J. Richardson. Henry just has a nose for the offensive boards and seems to find a way to make baskets.
Illinois ran a play called “Monster” earlier. It was a nice-looking play, but resulted in an errant pass.
I like that these coaches aren’t afraid to play guys who have two fouls in the firsrt half. Sam McLaurin was back out there after he picked up two early.
Can’t turn the ball over against the Colonels, that’s what they do. EKU has forced 10 turnovers and got 11 points off them.
The Illinois bench is calling for the officials to call hand-checking against the EKU guards on the perimeter.
“We need a call, they only have two fouls!” — John Groce after Brandon Paul appeared to be fouled late in the half. EKU was finally called for a foul a few seconds later.
Illinois had two threes get halfway down then rattle out.
Groce wanted to go two for one late in the first half when Illinois got the ball out of bounds with 44 seconds left. The players didn’t realize it, but ended up getting to the free throw line with 34.8 left. It as the first time they had been to the line all day.
Illinois shot 11 for 29 from the floor (37.9 percent) and 2 for 13 from deep (15.4).
EKU was 8 for 26 (30.8) and 3for 11 (27.3).
No. 10 Illinois 13, Eastern Kentucky 6 — 11:42 first half
“Screen the screener!” That’s what Dustin Ford was yelling on the first possession. Ford had the scout today.
Big-time crowd here to start. Best of the season.
EKU lives on turnovers. They got a steal and bucket from Mike DiNunno on Illinois’ third offensive possession.
Joseph Bertrand entered the game early and spent time guarding Mike DiNunno. Bertrand’s length at 6-foot-6, is giving the 5-11 DiNunno problems.
Champaign’s Jeff Johnson checked in for the Colonels after the first media timeout and got called for a charge. Groce went nuts congratulating Tracy Abrams for his efforts.
EKU started 1 for 10 from the floor. The Johnson ended that with a three-pointer. At least three of their early misses have been air balls.
The Illini have been whistled for five turnovers so far. They average 12 and EKU forces 19.3 per game.
The Illini are 6 for 10 from the floor and 1 of 4 from three. D.J. Richardson has the three. Five other players have a bucket.
The Colonels are 2 for 12 (16.7 percent) from the floor and 1 of 7 (14.3 percent) from three. They’ve turned it over twice.
Illinois leads 10-5 in rebounds.
Eastern Kentucky at No. 10 Illinois — tipoff
The Illini starters tonight are: Tracy Abrams, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu. Same as the previous 12 games.
Don’t be surprised to see Illinois press early tonight. They needs to do something to get themselves started with some energy early and that might be it. Defense has been a bright spot this season, so it would make sense to do something like that early to ignite the team.
Lou Henson is in the house with his lovely wife Mary. Lou and Mary, who started the Orange Krush in their living room, are seating in the Orange Krush seats.
It’s not the normal Krush today with finals this week. Lots of folks from the community sitting in that area.
Former radio play-by-play man Jim Turpin is here, too.
Mike LaTulip is the player featured on the program poster today.
John Groce is debuting his orange blazer today.
Michael Finke, who committed to Illinois on Wednesday, is sitting near the Illini bench with his dad Jeff, a former Illini football and basketball player.
There was a moment of silence before the Natonal Anthem for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Friday in Newtown, Conn.
Eastern Kentucky at No. 10 Illinois — 30 minutes before tipoff
The crowd is filing in. I wonder how many were waiting for the Bears game to end before they made their way to the arena? What a bummer that was.
Illinois hasn’t been overly impressive in front of the home folks this season. Whatever the reason, they recognize it as something that needs to change.
“We’ve got to play with passion,” Paul said. “We can’t come in like we did against Norfolk, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina. We’ve got to play more mentally tough. Devin Langford actually brought that up in our meeting the other day on our off day. It’s just something that we’ve got to show that we got to get better.”
Fans are waiting for them to comfortably blow someone out at home.
“We go into every game expecting to win but we can’t go in expecting to blow people out,” Paul said. “We’ve just got to play our game and let it happen. I love competing and if we can control the whole game and it’s not close, obviously that would be good.”
I spy quite a few groups of young fans entering the arena together being chaperoned by an adult. Lots of group tickets sold for this one. Hope it helps with the atmosphere. It would help if the Illini hit a bunch of long shots, too.
Geno Ford, the older brother of Illinois assistant Dustin Ford, is here. Geno is the head coach at Bradley. The last time Geno was here he was coaching Kent State against the Illini in the NIT. It didn’t end well for the Golden Flashes. Geno got on me for not warning him that Illinois was so good. The Illini got hammered by Dayton a couple nights later.
Jeff Johnson spent a few minutes visiting with Centennial coach Tim Lavin and his son Jeffrey Lavin. The Lavins are sitting near the Illinois bench. Jeffrey is a sharp-shooting 6-3 guard for the Chargers. He, along with Michael Finke, helped Centennial win a thriller against Normal West on Friday. Finke, who committed to Illinois this week, had 16 points and eight boards. The Centennial student section dressed on Illini gear for Finke.
Eastern Kentucky at No. 10 Illinois — 60 minutes before tipoff
We’re back. It’s been five days since Illinois last played and they’ve got a lot done in that time. Players have been studying for and taking finals and they’ve gotten after it in the gym. Groce said the practices have been crisp. He’ll tell you if they were bad, so believe him.
They also spent Wednesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn listening to a presentation from former NBAer Chris Herren, who starred at Fresno State. Herren lost his basketball career and nearly his family and life because of an addiction to drugs. Herren told his story Wednesday night and it really hit home with the players.
“That was unbelievable,” Brandon Paul said. “Obviously, I watched a little bit of that “30 for 30” that he was on. I was kind of in and out while I was watching it, I wasn’t really paying attention to, but I was like ‘Wow, that’s the guy who’s coming to talk?’ Just hearing his story, it’s unbelievable and it just shows that if he can amount to all that, anything can happen with you.
“Me and Nate Scheelhaase took a picture with him afterward and I put it on Twitter. A lot of my friends text me and were like ‘Wow, you met him? He had a crazy story’. We talk about it all the time. It’s a blessing that he’s still alive.”
The Illinois players related to Herren and his skill as a basketball player. He was drafted in the second round by the Denver Nuggets and later played for the Boston Celtics.
“Right after, I watched a lot of his YouTube videos and saw how much skill he had on the court and you see how easy how people can make the wrong decision and mess up their lives,” D.J. Richardson said. “God gave him another chance.”
At that event Wednesday, John Groce was presented a sewig kit and a package of dark underwear. You'll remember the coach split his pants during the Western Carolina game and the Assembly Hall got a good look at his white under garments.
The EKU players are on the floor warming up. They’ve got some familiar faces. Guard Mike DiNunno is a Chicago native, who started his career at Northern Illinois.
“I played against him in high school at a showcase, it was a long time ago,” Paul said. “He’s a good player, I played against him freshman year when he was at Northern Illinois. I walked into scout and I was like ‘Yeah, I remember him a little bit.’ ”
Guard Marcus Lewis is from Streamwood and of course Jeff Johnson from Champaign are here.
Johnson is fired up to be playing in his hometown.
“That’s going to be the best part. I’m sure my adrenaline will be pumping,” he said. “Just thinking about it makes me excited. Once we finally get out there and the game starts, that’s the moment I’m looking forward to most, just to be able to get out there and play.”
The Colonels also have a player who becomes eligible today in Miami (Ohio) transfer Orlando Williams. Williams, a 6-4 guard, averaged 3.0 points as a freshman for the Redhawks.
Be back soon.
Eastern Kentucky at No. 10 Illinois — 90 minutes before tipoff
Good afternoon, folks, welcome to another battle of unbeatens as the Colonels from the Ohio Valley Conference look to jump into the national scene with an upset against the 10th-ranked Illini today.
I’ll be here all day, providing updates. As I type, Tyler Griffey is going through his pregame routine of shooting. There are some out there who will take exception to this update, I’m OK with that.
Mike LaTulip, Joseph Bertrand and Brandon Paul joined him soon after.
Griffey has been in a bit of a shooting slump, but he’s picked it up in other areas. The coaches aren’t overly concerned with his recent shooting woes. He’ll snap out of it. The good thing is he hasn’t let if affect other parts of his game.
The National Anthem singer just went through two renditions of the song to make sure the sound was right. She’s terrific.
Loren estimates that he’s spent the equivalent of two years of his life listening to the Star Spangled Banner. He’s been to a lot of games in a lot of years.
Expecting a pretty good crowd here today. A lot of that can be credited with Jeff Johnson, the EKU junior from Champaign. The Centennial graduate’s family said they expect close to 100 folks inside the Assembly Hall rooting on their favorite player.
Johnson was a classmate and teammate of Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice at Centennial. Along with San Jose State’s James Kinney (who played for John Groce at Ohio briefly) and Eastern Illinois’ Josh Piper, they led the Chargers to a 32-1 record and a Class 3A state title in 2009.
I’ll have more on Johnson later. Hope you caught our story on him this morning.
This one doesn’t figure to be easy, EKU is ranked 18th in the latest midmajor poll and they create a lot of turnovers (19.3 per game). They entered the week second in the country in that regard.
Good news for Illinois is guards Tracy Abrams and D.J. Richardson will be in the lineup today and they’re fine. They got bruised up against Norfolk State. Here’s their update.
I’m gonna walk around and chat with some folks and jump on the Ruedi Holder and Associates pregame show with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate. I’ll be back.