LIVE! Auburn

LIVE! Auburn

No. 12 Illinois 81, Auburn 79 — Final

CHICAGO — Tracy Abrams scored a career-high 29 points and No. 12 Illinois ended a three-game losing streak at the United Center, defeating Auburn 81-79 on Saturday.

Abrams, a Chicago native who prepped at Mount Carmel on the South Side, added eight rebounds and five assists for the Illini (13-1), who begin Big Ten play Wednesday at Purdue. Abrams went 13 for 15 from the free throw line.

Brandon Paul struggled from the floor, shooting 3 for 12 — 0 for 5 from three-point range — but finished with 14 points for Illinois.

Auburn got 21 points from Frankie Sullivan, 13 from Robb Chubb and 10 from Allen Payne.

AUBURN (5-7)
Payne 4-8 2-3 10, Chubb 5-7 3-4 13, Sullivan 8-17 0-0 21,  Denson 2-8 3-6 8, S. Johnson 2-3 0-0 5, Dixon-Tatum 2-3 1-2 5,  Wallace 3-6 1-1 8, Holmes 0-0 0-0 0, Greene Jr. 1-3 0-0 3,  N. Johnson 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 29-60 10-16 79.
Griffey 4-6 0-2 8, Egwu 3-7 0-0 6, Richardson 2-7 3-5 8,  Abrams 6-11 13-15 27, Paul 3-12 7-10 13, McLaurin 2-2 2-4 6,  LaTulip 0-0 0-0 0, Bertrand 3-3 0-0 7, Henry 1-3 1-2 3,  Langford 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 25-52 27-40 81.
Halftime—Illinois 47-42. 3-Point Goals—Auburn 11-23 (Sullivan 5-12,  N. Johnson 2-3, Wallace 1-1, Denson 1-1, S. Johnson 1-2, Greene Jr. 1-2,  Payne 0-2), Illinois 4-15 (Abrams 2-3, Bertrand 1-1, Richardson 1-4,  Griffey 0-1, Henry 0-1, Paul 0-5). Fouled Out—S. Johnson.  Rebounds—Auburn 39 (Payne 10), Illinois 31 (Abrams 8). Assists—Auburn 18  (Denson, Sullivan, Wallace 4), Illinois 14 (Abrams 5). Total  Fouls—Auburn 25, Illinois 15. A—18,136.

More later on HQ.

No. 12 Illinois 59, Auburn 48 — 11:31 second half

The Illini opened the second half with a set play — an alley-oop to Tyler Griffey. He almost fumbled away the pass.

Richardson and Paul start the second half cold from the floor. They haven’t been close on a few. You wonder where the confidence is for each right now. On the same possession, each passed up wide-open shots early in the half.

Auburn went more than seven minutes without a field goal. Illinois struggled itself and wasn’t quite able to pull away like it should have.

D.J. picked up his third foul about four minutes into the half. He was called for charging by Mike Sanzere. Groce didn’t like it. Let Sanzere know he didn’t like it.

Sam McLaurin came back a couple of plays later and drew a charge of his own shortly after the Brandon Paul circus shot that you’ll likely see on “SportsCenter”.

McLaurin has hit two midrange jumpers today. That’s a new wrinkle.

“How is that not a foul?!?” Groce yelled after Brandon Paul got mauled on a drive to the bucket.

Myke Henry had another tip-in bucket off a Paul missed layup. How does he keep doing that?

A text message I just received: “I have no idea how these guys won at Gonzaga. Groce should be Coach of the Year for that alone.”

A guy named T.J. put on a show during a shooting competition during halftime. Groce probably wouldn’t mind having him today.

Great crowd at the UC today. Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close to 19,000.

No. 12 Illinois 47, Auburn 42 — Halftime

Rob Chubb gave the Illini fits in the first half.

The Auburn 7-footer scored eight points and grabbed four boards. He’s a load, though he got called for a double-dribble late.

John Groce wasn’t happy with that last possession that resulted in a Brandon Paul desperation three-pointer. BP hit the side of the backboard.

Illinois first zone at the 8-minute mark confused the Tigers. The clock got down to 8 seconds then they traveled. The zone has given the Tigers trouble. Look for more of that in the second half.

Mike LaTulip’s run didn’t last long. He came out after a minute. Devin Langford, playing against one of his homestate schools, got some minutes with D.J. Richardson on the bench in foul trouble.

Devin hit Tracy Abrams with a crosscourt pass for a three-pointer on his first possession.

Langford’s three first-half points ties a career-high that he had against Chaminade.

How about Tyler Griffey’s steal and bucket? He should have dunked it. Settled for a finger roll.

D.J. came back in under-8 and hit a three. He needed that.

Speaking of Abrams, he had a great first half, scoring 16 points. His career high is 22. He did that at Hawaii last month.

Auburn is lighting it up from outside. The Tigers hit 5 of their first 7 from behind the three-point line before missing the last three. Isn’t Illinois supposed to be doing that?

The Illini shot 53.3 percent (16 for 30) in the half. They made 3 for 10 from long range. Auburn was also 16 for 30.

Auburn is out-rebounding Illinois 20-12. The Tigers have eight offensive boards and scored 10 second-chance points. Illinois has three offensive boards, one second-chance point.

They turned the Tigers over 11 times, scoring 14 points.

Paul has eight points, Egwu has six and Richardson five.

Frankie Sullivan had 10 to lead the Tigers.

Anyone with Xfinity in Chicago area having trouble with the broadcast? I’ve heard some complaints.

No. 12 Illinois 22, Auburn 21 — 10:52 first half

Shaq Johnson caught a halfcourt alley-oop early. Illinois struggled with transition defense against Missouri. That won’t make the coaches happy.

Brandon Paul swiped the ball away from Frankie Sullivan got an offensive rebound. He should get credited with a blocked shot.

Good start for Nnanna Egwu. He knocked down his first three jumpers.

Egwu and Tracy Abrams, two Chicago products, provided the early offense for Illinois.

Abrams got a little out of control early, getting into the lane and making a turnover.

Auburn is tough on the offensive glass. The Illini are going to have to be disciplined in their approach on the board.

 Myke Henry getting some early burn for the illini. Shortly after entering the game, Myke got an offensive rebound and got fouled, going to the line.

D.J. Richardson checked out at the 13:58 mark with two fouls. He got a steal near halfcourt on one of those reacharounds. He’s good at those.

I heard the broadcast team is making absurd comparisons between this Illinois team and the 1989 and 2005 teams. Take it easy, guys.

Auburn’s center’s name is Robb Chubb. Of course it is. Not a bad player.

Mike LaTulip checked in at the under-12 timeout. LaTulip has DNPs in six of the last seven games.

Auburn (5-6) vs. No. 12 Illinois (12-1) — Tipoff (BTN)

I’m told to expect about 16,000 fans today, maybe even 17,000. It’s pretty packed.

The place holds close to 22,000 for basketball

The band is right behind us. They’re loud.

No recruits here today, they’re all playing in holiday tournaments. This date conflicts with that. The mother of 2015 St. Rita guard Charles Matthews will be here today. St. Rita has a game.

Former Illinois football sports information director Cassie Arner is here. Arner works in the Auburn athletic department now.

Ran into Bulls general manager Gar Forman in the restroom. Not an ideal place for conversation. So I said ‘Hi’ and let him be.

Rayvonte Rice is here. The Drake transfer is in the stands a few rows behind his Illinois teammates.

If for some reason Illinois doesn’t win today, the senior class will have at least one more shot at a United Center win with the Big Ten tournament returning to its original home at the UC in March.

Caught up with Big Ten assistant commissioner for communications Scott Chipman a little bit ago about the tournament returning to the Windy City.

“Obviously the Big Ten tournament started in Chicago, its always great to be in Chicago. We love Indianapolis, we love Chicago; two great facilities, two great fan bases. It’s great to be back in Chicago, we’re looking forward to the event,” he said.

It’s game time. Illinois is going with its usual starting lineup of Abrams, Richardson, Paul, Griffey and Egwu.

Lights went of for the Illinois introductions. Much like they do for the Bulls. I believe the Bulls were the first team to do that. Everyone does it now.

Auburn counters with Payne, Chubb, Denson, Johnson and Sullivan.

Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson did that thing where they try to make a halfcourt shot before they leave the floor. Neither was close the first four attempts. Paul finally made one. The fans approved.

I’ll be back midway through the half with an update.

Auburn (5-6) vs. No. 12 Illinois (12-1) — 30 minutes before tipoff

Auburn has been jolted recently by the return of guard Chris Denson. Denson became eligible at the semester and is leading the team, averaging 17 points per game. The Tigers are 3-1 wince he returned. They won three straight before losing to Winthrop.

Auburns guards are pretty good. You’ve got Denson and also Frankie Sullivan, who is averaging 16.9 points. They’ll try to run, something Illinois struggled with against Missouri a week ago.

“The one thing that stood out more watching the film and we kept mentioning it to them in timeouts, we talked about it at halftime and it was even more dramatic after I watched the film, was our inability to get back in transition. We didn’t get back in transition like we should have,” Groce said. “We knew it during the game, I knew it, we were keeping track of the points, but when you watch it on film, it’s like ‘Wow!’ ”

Illinois halfcourt defense was actually pretty good against Mizzou.

There was a buzz at this game a few years ago when William Wesley (Worldwide Wes) attended Illinois’ game against Arizona as a guest of Jerrance Howard.

Paul Klee, who got to know Uncle Wes, says that Wes told him last spring during the Illinois coaching search that Auburn coach Tony Barbee would be a good fit for Illinois.

How about the Illinois women’s team winning last night at home against previously unbeaten and sixth-ranked Georgia? That’s the signature win for Matt Bollant so far in his first year. They’ll be a Big Ten contender before you know it.

Director of Basketball operations for the women’s team, Jessica Abitz, is here today. She’s folding orange t-shirts.

An Auburn player, I’m not sure who, just did a 360 windmill dunk. Probably won’t see that during the game. It was impressive, though.

The Illini just retook the floor for the first time with the fans in the building. There was a hearty ovation for the state school. Lots of orange and blue here. Both teams share team colors. It's difficult to differentiate between Illini fans and Tigers fans. I guess Auburn's orange is a little darker?

Auburn (5-6) vs. No. 12 Illinois (12-1) — 60 minutes before tipoff

The doors have opened here at the United Center and the folks are starting to file in.

The only good thing about the NHL lockout is there’s no ice underneath the UC floor. It usually gets ridiculously cold down here. I’m thankful for that, but would love to be able to come to another Blackhawks game soon.

Illinois coach John Groce spent his evening last night not too far from here in Demetri McCamey’s neighborhood checking out the Proviso West Holiday tournament. The Proviso West tournament is probably the best of the holiday tourneys held in the Chicago area.

Groce was checking out Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson, a 6-foot sophomore. The left-hander is at the top of Illinois’ list for 2015. Brunson is the son of former NBAer and current Charlotte Bobcats coach Rick Brunson. Rick, a 1991 McDonald’s All-American, played collegiately at Temple and spent the previous two seasons on Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Bulls.

Groce is probably going to be in Pontiac tonight to watch Cliff Alexander and all the other studs there.

As I said before, seven Illini are from near here. Brandon Paul (Gurnee), Mike LaTulip (Arlington Heights) and Kevin Berardini (Lake Forest) are from the suburbs. Myke Henry, Mike Shaw, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu are from Chicago. Though, Egwu’s family actually lives in South Holland in the South Suburbs. Beautiful town.

Auburn actually has a couple of players making homecomings today, too.

Brian Greene Jr. lists Chicago as his hometown and played his high school ball at Thornton in Harvey. He’s averaging 1.3 points and 1.7 assists.

Nick Pellar is from Munster in northwest Indiana. I was with some good friends from Munster last night and they had never heard of the freshman. He’s a walkon, probably won’t play but will have a lot of fans here, as will Greene.

The Tigers aren’t very good, but they rebound well. Coach Tony Barbee is a John Calipari disciple and getting better on the boards is a serious point of emphasis for the Illini after getting hammered on the boards by Missouri.

“A large part of that is not as simple as blocking out. I think a big reason why they got us on the glass Saturday is because Phil Pressey was inside our defense creating rotations,” Groce said. “When you create rotations, it’s harder to block out, so keeping the ball out of the paint helps and assists in being able to rebound the basketball better.”

Speaking of Mizzou, anyone catch that game last night at UCLA? That was some good stuff. And Pressey is real good.

I’m jumping on the pregame show with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate. I’ll check back in a few.

Auburn (5-6) vs. No. 12 Illinois (12-1) — 90 minutes before tipoff (Big Ten Network)

Good morning/afternoon and thanks for stopping by for another Illinois basketball game day.

Always cool to be covering a game in the United Center. I used to come to about a dozen games a year here as a kid when a guy named Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls. You might have heard of him, there’s a statue of his likeness outside.

This today is Illinois’ final tuneup heading into Big Ten plays, which begins Wednesday at Purdue. It’s a good situation for the Illini, playing a subpar opponent inside a building they desperately need a win after an emotional loss to Missouri in St. Louis a week ago.

I expect an easy win, but you never know with these guys. They like to make it interesting.

Joseph Bertrand didn’t return to Champaign from his home in Sterling until Thursday. Most of the other guys got back Wednesday night, but Bertrand was a little under the weather and traveled back the following day and was able to practice.

After practice, Joe stood outside assistant coach Paris Parham’s door and Parham told Joe to get his sick butt away from him. He was kidding.

Parham is from Chicago. He’s never lost a game coaching in this building. Read about that here.

This game is a big deal to him, the seven Illinois players from the Chicagoland area and the program as a whole. It’s been a rough go of it lately on the West Side.

“A kid from the inner city getting the chance to come home and coach in a big game in the building you grew up watching games, that’s exciting,” Parham told me this week. “The team totally understand what it means, especially the guys who have played there before and the history they’ve had there.”

With all the holiday tournaments going on, there might not be as many recruits here as normal. I’ll find out who’s here.

A couple of Auburn players just came out to get up some shots. The lights were still down. Hope they turn them on for the guys. One guy is wearing some serious padding underneat his jersey. Looks like a football player.

Tyler Griffey just made his way out, too. Illinois will wear white uniforms today.

I’m going to get settled in and be back in a few.

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Moonpie wrote on December 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Nice to win.

But this team is overrated. They barely escaped losing to a 5-6 team and have been barely squeaking past some mediocre teams. Oracle Tate can cheerlead all he wants about them playing hard, but they have been lucky. The coming conference games aren't the same as playing Auburn. In cfonference games when they don't shoot well there's no inside game to bail them out.

OKOMIS wrote on December 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm

You may be right…. But last years and the one before lose this game… they’re not a top 10 or even 15 team…. But they won’t quit like that Nebraska game last year… at least there is some fight… something we lacked for a while…