LIVE! McKendree

Illinois 101, McKendree 66 — FINAL

Many wondered what Illinois would do at the point guard position for depth when Ahmad Starks’ waiver to play immediately was denied by the NCAA. After the way Jaylon Tate played in Thursday’s exhibition win against McKendree at the State Farm Center, those fears might be calmed a bit.

The freshman scored 13 points to go along with three assists in the win.

Returning starter Tracy Abrams was good, too. The 6-foot-2 junior scored a team-high 16 points, grabbed three boards and had three assists in the win.

Rayvonte Rice scored 13 and Jon Ekey added 12 points and six boards off the bench.

Joseph Bertrand had eight points and eight rebounds.

Clinton Happe led the Bearcats with 15 points.

More later on HQ.

Illinois 73, McKendree 53 — 11:59 second half

Jaylon Tate continues to impress. I know it’s just McKendree, but if he can play like this — under control and making good decisions with the ball — he can be a huge asset.

On the first possession of the half, Jon Ekey bit on a pump fake and Joe Bertrand came behind him to block the shot that was called a goaltend.

“Ekey and Bertrand love to leave their feet,” Groce said.

Rayvonte Rice re-enacted the old Grant Hill Sprite commercial when his breakaway dunk attempt was rejected by the rim. Bertrand cleaned it up for him. Everyone enjoyed a laugh.

I’ve been saying all along that Jon Ekey was more than just a spot-up shooter. Folks are seeing that tonight. He’s an athlete.

McKendree’s Arthur Williams fouled out with 15 minutes left. That’s efficient.

Illinois is really looking to run when it gets rebounds and turnovers. It’s been fun to watch.

Ekey’s three from the corner was the first of the game for the Illini. They were 0 for 10, I believe before that.

Monticello’s Matt Kruse is in the game. He’s a big man. 

Illinois 47, McKendree 39 — Halftime

Tracy Abrams went down early with an ankle injury that looked scary, but he came back a few minutes later and he’s been real good for the Illini.

The junior ended the half with nine points, three rebounds and an assist.

The freshman quartt of Malcolm Hill, Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Colbert turned the game around for the Illini late in the half. They’ve been really good.

In the decisive sequence of the half for the Illini, four freshmen — Tate, Nunn, Hill, Colbert — were on the floor together with Joseph Bertrand. The caused a lot of problems on the defensive end and turned the game in Illinois’ favor.

Groce and Dustin Ford were pleased with Maverick Morgan’s early work. “Great job, big fella, two good stints,” Groce told him as he came off the court.

McKendree can’t shoot like this all night, can they? The Bearcats started 5 for 7 from long range.

Kendrick Nunn checked in at the halfway mark of the half. Dustin Ford told him to “Bring us some energy.”

Nunn was asked to take off his orange “E1H” bracelet after a possession. Then he fouled a three-point shooter.

Loren Tate is monitoring every pitch of the Cardinals game on his iPhone.

Rice has been real good at getting to the basket and he’s so physical that he’s either going to score through contact or draw a foul. That’s something that’s been missing the last few years.

McKendree has a guy named Michael Jackson. That’s unfortunate for him.

McKendree coach Harry Statham was a graduate assistant coach at Illinois under Harry Combes.

One of the officials just went to special assistant Ryan Pedon and said “You did more chirping at Toledo.”

Mike DiGregorio, from north suburban Mortn Grove, has a huge cheering section up in Section C.

Nnanna Egwu got beat on a play defensively and Groce says it’s because he didn’t see the ball. “Nnanna, vision!”

Austin Colbert got his first action of the night with a little more than five minutes left in the half. He went in at the 5 and was immediately called for a foul.

Both teams were in the double bonus with five minutes left in the half. The officials are trying to clean things up on the perimeter.

Illinois shot 14 for 31 (45.2 percent) and McKendree shot 13 for 30 (43.3). Illinois is 0 for 9 from three-point range. McKendree is 5 for 12.

McKendree 19, Illinois 8 — 11:48 first half

On the first possession of the game, Jon Ekey kept the ball alive with a few taps on the offensive end. John Groce approved. “Good effort, Jon! Good effort, Jon!” the coach shouted.

On the next possession, after a Rayvonte Rice steal, he got in the paint and hit Ekey with a no-look pass for a dunk. Pretty stuff.

Less than two minutes in, Tracy Abrams went down with an ankle injury. He had to be helped off the court. He looked to be in some serious pain. Freshman Jaylon Tate replaced him.

Maverick Morgan was next off the bench, giving Nnanna Egwu a rest.

“That’s two fouls we got there that are a little silly, fellas,” John Groce said to the bench after Morgan got whistled.

Nnanna Egwu is calling out the plays before the coaches on the Illini bench base don what the defense is showing.

Tracy went to the locker room to get checked out after the ankle injury. He’s back and in the game.

After McKendree took an 11-3 lead, Jaylon Tate pushed the ball up the floor, got to the bucket and to the free throw line. Groce was more than pleased with his freshman point guard.

He and Abrams played together at times early in the half. Tate at the 1, Abrams at the 2.

Illinois started 1 for 10 from the floor. About four of those shots went in and out.

The Bearcats are 4 for 5 from long range. Clinton Happe and Mike DeGregorio each have nailed two.

McKendree at Illinois — TIPOFF (WDWS 1400-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM; BTDN)

As we told you before, the veterans Abrams, Rice, Bertrand, Ekey and Egwu will start tonight against the Bearcats.

Groce shouted “Guys who are starting, have a seat.” They’re still learning how to do things.

Big cheer for Rayvonte Rice as he was introduced during the lineups.

McKendree will go with Mike DiGregorio, Clinton Happe, Arthur Williams, Jeremy Price and Will Kirksey.

McKendree has a local product on its roster, Matt Kruse from Monticello. Kruse is a 6-foot-9 freshman. This has to be a thrill for him.

There have already been a couple of kinks. Maverick Morgan ran into one of the security guards on the way out of the locker room. No one was injured. Crisis averted.

I ran into John Groce in the tunnel. He was focused, as you could imagine. He’s glad the season is here.

“It’s flown by,” he said of the offseason.

Only a couple thousand here tonight at the tip. Exhibition college basketball against Cardinals World Series baseball is a mismatch in favor of the Redbirds.

McKendree took the floor to boos. Their guys seemed to love it.

I’m still trying to figure out who’s family is who with so many newcomers on the team. I know Malcolm Hill’s mom is here, Joseph Bertrand’s mom, Kendrick Nunn’s folks are here, as are Mike LaTulip’s. Hill’s mom is getting a kick out of seeing her son run through the tunnel.

Aaron Cosby is on the bench wearing a blue Illinois polo. Darius Paul is wearing a blue hoodie and Ahmad Starks is rocking an blue cardigan.

Ed Hightower is one of the officials. He must not have received the memo that this one isn’t on real TV.

McKendree at Illinois — 7 p.m. (WDWS 1400-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM; BTDN)

I caught up with Mike Alexander today, the director of Cliff Alexander’s AAU program. We talked about the fun Cliff’s ben having with the process. He’s really enjoying it, as you probably already know by following him on Twitter.

What’s Cliff looking for in a program?

“He’s looking for somewhere from an academic standpoint that’s a good school and Illinois is one of the top schools in the country,” Irvin said. “He wants to go into a situation that’s going to give him a chance to be one-and-done but at the same time, if he has to be there longer than that, a place he feels comfortable enough to be there that long.”

We’ll have more from Irvin and others on Cliff this weekend in The News-Gazette and here online.

As far as tonight’s game in concerned, expect a starting lineup of Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu. Groce is going with the veteran guys to get the season started. Not a real surprise there, though the coach hinted that a few of those spots, save Ekey and Egwu, were up for grabs entering yesterday’s practice.

“We’ve got a dogfight at a couple of positions that today’s practice will determine who will start tomorrow,” Groce said on Wednesday. “Practice matters and for the first exhibition game, I’ve always stayed true to that.”

The doors have opened here and the students are making their way toward their seats. The Orange Krush section under the basket is just about full. Other than that, it’s still pretty quiet in here. This is an opportunity for everyone involved to get warmed up for the real thing on Nov. 8.

I’m sitting next to Steve Kelly and Loren Tate, two serious Cardinals fans. Steve’s wearing red. Loren isn’t here yet. They’re going to be nervous.

Sounds like we’ve got some new music here at the State Farm Center. I heard some sounds from the newest Justin Timberlake album. That’s always appreciated.

I’ll be back again to get you ready at the tip.

McKendree at Illinois — 7 p.m. (WDWS 1400-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM; BTDN)

Good evening and welcome to the first exhibition Live Report of the 2013-14 season. This will be the first opportunity to see all the new faces play against someone in a different-colored jersey. They’re getting pretty sick of going up against one another.

The goal tonight is for the Illini to be better in this game than they were last week in the Orange and Blue Scrimmage. John Groce was frank in his assessment of that performance.

“I didn’t like how we played in the scrimmage at all,” he said. “I didn’t think we played nearly hard enough, I didn’t think we ran fast enough. I thought our positioning was bad. I thought our screen defense was not very good. I thought we let the ball in the post at will.”

Look for all those things to be a point of emphasis tonight.

Also look for Tracy Abrams to get it going a little bit tonight. The junior point guard didn’t stand out in the scrimmage last week, but he’s obviously an important piece to this year’s squad.

“I feel pretty comfortable where I’m at right now. There’s always room for improvement, but I’m pretty comfortable where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working.”

About 90 minutes before tipoff Illinois guards Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks were on the State Farm Center floor going through a rigorous pregame workout with Illinois assistant Jamall Walker. Of course, neither of those guys will be able to play tonight.

Walker is on cloud 9 these days as his Kansas City Chiefs are the lone remaining unbeaten team in the NFL through seven weeks. Who saw that coming?

Walker and Jon Ekey are both Chiefs fans.

Of course this is a big recruiting weekend for the Illini with five-star big man Cliff Alexander on campus making his official visit. I spoke with Cliff’s AAU coach Mike Irvin earlier today. We’ll have a few of his comments later on tonight.

Both teams are out on the court Illinois in blue pants and orange tops. McKendree is going with the all-purple look. I’ll be back to check in soon.

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