HQ forecast: UI 74, E. Kentucky 66
Beat writer Marcus Jackson's breakdown of today's Eastern Kentucky at Illinois game, 5 p.m.
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 11.4
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 12.1
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 19.0
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 9.3
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 5.6
FYI: Paul, who’s second in the Big Ten in scoring, has scored in double figures in all 11 games, including five games with 20-plus points.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.4
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.5
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 4.4
Eastern Kentucky (9-0)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Glenn Cosey Jr. 6-0 17.7
G Mike DiNunno Sr. 5-11 14.1
G Tarius Johnson Jr. 6-5 6.9
F Deverin Muff So. 6-8 5.1
F Eric Sturtz So. 6-8 8.3
FYI: Cosey had 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and six three-pointers in the Colonels’ 63-52 win at Chattanooga the last time out.
OFF THE BENCH
G Corey Walden So. 6-2 8.8
G Marcus Lewis Jr. 6-4 5.1
F Jeff Johnson Jr. 6-7 5.8
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign.
TV: ESPNU — Jim Barbar (play-by-play) and former Illini Stephen Bardo (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 1-0. Last meeting: Illinois 79, Eastern Kentucky 56, Dec. 6, 1985.
FYI: Illinois is averaging 13,241 fans per game at the Assembly Hall. The largest crowd Eastern Kentucky has played in front of this season is 3,100 in its opener at home against Cincinnati Christian.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
After today, Illinois won’t play again until Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights game against Missouri in St. Louis. The week will be spent preparing for that matchup, but it’s also finals week at Illinois. “One thing college helps you do is manage your responsibilities,” said Brandon Paul, an academic All-Big Ten honoree. “I’m a senior now, so I didn’t have as much work as I might have had in the past. It’s just something we’ve got to manage.”
The Illini have played well away from the Assembly Hall this season, but they’ve left their fans wanting more with their appearances at home. They’re 6-0 but ... “We want to make sure we come out and play a lot better,” fifth-year transfer Sam McLaurin said. “I told the guys, being where I was last year (Coastal Carolina), our coach does some of the things Eastern Kentucky is doing. It’s not a coincidence they’re scheduling us when they did: We’re coming off exams, our students are gone. ... We just have to come in with a different mentality than we have in the past couple games.”
Eastern Kentucky is forcing 19.3 turnovers per game, second in the country. Illinois is third in the Big Ten with a turnover margin of plus-3.82. Taking care of the ball will be key today, and the Illini will continue to rely on Tracy Abrams and Paul in that area. The duo, which shares point guard duties, has 17 more assists than turnovers. Paul, a natural wing, has grown into the new role. “I’ve obviously played a bigger role at point this year than I have in the past,” Paul said. “I feel like I’m strong in both areas. I do whatever helps the team be successful.”
Prediction: Illinois 74, Eastern Kentucky 66
Teams from leagues like the Ohio Valley don’t always get the respect of their power-conference opponent when they pop up on the schedule. Eastern Kentucky will have Illinois’ respect because of the 9-0 record and its easy win against a Norfolk State team the Illini struggled with — not to mention a win against Western Carolina, another common opponent. The last time Illinois played an unbeaten team, it showed toughness in beating then-No. 10 Gonzaga on the road. “We’ve got to choose to be (tough),” UI coach John Groce said. “We’re not quite there yet, obviously, we’re not good enough in that area yet. We’ve got to be better. That’s what we’ve talked about the past couple of days.” (N-G prediction record: 9-2)