LIVE! Valpo

Illinois 64, Valparaiso 52 — FINAL

Rayvonte Rice scored 18 points, Joseph Bertrand added 14 and Jon Ekey pulled down 15 rebounds for the Illini, who pulled away from the Crusaders in the closing minutes to move their record to 3-0.

Tracy Abrams added 12 points and Nnanna egwu chipped in 10, for the Illini, who won despite shooting 31.8 percent from the floor.

Late in the game, the Orange Krush student section chanted "We want Cliff" in reference to the five-star Chicago big man, who is set to make his college decision on Friday. Alexander will choose between the Illini, Kansas, DePaul and Memphis.

More later on HQ.

Illinois 33, Valparaiso 25 — HALFTIME

Jon Ekey’s fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer sent the Illini into the half with some momentum. It was pretty ugly there for a while.

As he was turning to let it go, someone on the Illini bench yelled “JON!” It worked.

This one’s going to be a defensive struggle. Neither team is shooting it very well.

There’s a fly that’s been buzzing around my head all night. It’s really making me mad. I’m sure you care.

Jaylon Tate hit Nnanna Egwu with a perfect lob in traffic in the halfcourt. Nnanna missed the dunk, somehow. “We’ve got to dunk that,” Groce said.

Nnanna has mishandled a couple nice feeds from Tate.

Nnanna lost a contact shortly after the play. Took him a while to get it taken care of. Austin Colbert had to come into the game while athletic trainer Paul Schmidt got it all figured out.

Playing post defense, Colbert drew an offensive foul on Moussa Gueye. It was his second.

He missed it, but that was a heck of a one-handed tip-dunk attempt by Jon Ekey. He’s got some springs.

“We’re getting great shots, we’re getting stops, we’ve just got to make some layups.” — John Groce

Illinois went through a stretch when it was 4 for 20 from the floor. Missed a lot of bunnies.

Mike LaTulip makes it 11 players to see the floor for the Illini tonight. I’m pretty sure LaTulip had an offer from Valparaiso coming out of high school.

Rice got tied up with the monster Moussa Gueye under the bucket. Rice got elbowed in the face. Officials looked at it and said it was inadvertent.

By the way, Mike Cation isn’t here tonight. Tim Sinclair is handling the public address. He’s doing a fine job.

Valpo called out a play toward the end of the half. Jamall Walker, who has the scout, jumped up and told the Illini what they were about to do. Bryce Drew called timeout to call something else.

Illinois shot 10 for 33 (30.3 percent) from the floor and 4 for 10 from long range in the half. The Illini were 9 of 12 from the foul line.

Valpo was 7 for 21 (33.3 percent) from the floor and 3 for 7 (42.9 percent) from distance. The Crusaders were 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from the stripe.

Rice has nine points and Bertrand has seven to lead Illinois. Ekey (six points) leads everyone with seven rebounds, five coming on the offensive glass.

Valpo got eight points from Jordan Coleman.

Here's a video of Rayvonte Rice's spinning layup.

Illinois 15, Valparaiso 8 — 11:44 first half

After shooting 25 percent from three the first two games, Illinois made its first two. Jon Ekey and Rayvonte Rice connected.

Bertrand even hit his first three-point attempt.

Rice might have made “SportsCenter” or “Fox Sports Live” with his spinning, acrobatic layup amongst the trees. You’ll see that a few more times in the coming days.

John Groce was fired up when Ekey was called for a charge. “You’ve got the be kidding me! He was standing there forever!” Groce told the official.

Alec Peters has a big cheering section here. The freshman forward is from Washington, Ill. in the Peoria area. Peters played on the Peoria Irish with Michael Finke.

Roger Powell was given a very nice round of applause from the fans when he was introduced with the Valparaiso coaching staff. The Rev is locked in, he didn’t acknowledge it.

Seth Davis, calling his first game for the Big Ten Network, weighed in on Cliff Alexander.

“Nobody knows, I’m not sure if Cliff knows, to be honest,” Davis said. “It’s a heck of a way to try to make a living as a college coach to figure out these kids and get them to come to your school. I think it looks pretty good for Illinois, but not great. It won’t be great until he says where he’s going.”

Favorite tweet of the night, so far: “Illini are up 10-5 against the Monstars… I mean Valparaiso.” — Chris Hine, Chicago Tribune

Valparaiso (2-0) at Illinois (2-0) — TIPOFF (BTN)

Illinois is wearing white tonight. Valpo is going with yellow (gold?). No issues tonight in terms of clashing colors like we almost had on Sunday.

Valpo is playing tonight without the player may feel to be its best. Keith Carter, a St. Louis transfer, is out for the semester after transferring. He went to the same high school as Dee Brown.

Emily Weber, daughter of Bruce, spent a few minutes catching up with Powell. Emily, a senior Illinois cheerleader, was in seventh grade when Powell and the Illini made their run to the title game.

Illinois will go with the same starting lineup of Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.

Maverick Morgan is on the poster tonight.

Also on the Valpo staff is Matt Lottich, the former News-Gazette All-Stater from New Trier. Lottich starred at Stanford, where he also played baseball. He was a great high school quarterback for the Trevians, too.

Valpo would win most 3-on-3 tournaments between themselves and the other coaching staffs in the country with Bryce Drew, Powell and Lottich leading the charge.

How does everyone feel about the new emphasis on calling the hand checks and such? I love it. Stop fouling and the games would go quicker and be more fun to watch. Move your feet.

Groce said his team, as well as most others, are still adjusting.

“They’ve been very consistent with the push toward freedom of movement. Everybody’s kind of adjusting at this point, all of us are; coaches, players, officials,” he said. “It’s kind of a work in progress. In the case of our two games and watching the game son film that it was very, very consistent with an emphasis on that. Hopefully the goal was to continue to move forward with that type of consistency as the season plays itself out.”

We’ll see how that affects tonight’s game, which is about to tip.

Just had "Chelsea Dagger" playing here at the State Farm Center. Now I'm fired up!

Valparaiso (2-0) at Illinois (2-0) — 6:30 p.m. (BTN)

Oh, by the way, Roger Powell returns to the State Farm Center tonight, this time as an opponent. The Illini great is in his third season as an assistant coach on Bryce Drew’s staff with the Crusaders.

The last time these two teams met was December of 2004 when Powell and No. 1 Illinois won handily. The Rev finished with 14 points.

Powell spent some time at Ubben the last couple of days and has enjoyed getting back to campus.

“It’s really cool. Campus has changed a lot, but it still has the same feel. I’m excited to be here, I really am,” Powell said.

He attended the women’s game last night that the Illini won against Valparaiso.

Paul Oren, who covers Valpo for the Times of Northwest Indiana, seems to think Powell might be in line to take over the program if Valpo continues to have success and Bryce Drew is lured away by a bigger program. They think very highly of Powell at Valparaiso, which comes as no surprise to any of you.

Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby were out here going through their typical game-day workout with Jamall Walker. I didn’t see a lot of shots from those guys that failed to go through the basket.

Still wonder what this team would look like if Starks was eligible to play this season. He’d be a much-welcomed addition.

Starks got the team fired up a little bit ago with a windmill dunk he threw down on a bounce alley-oop pass he threw to himself. Impressive stuff for a guy who might be 5-foot-9 on a good day.

Dustin Ford was really impressed by it.

Of course, Jaylon Tate has been exceptional through the first two games of his collegiate career. The freshman point guard has 10 assists and just one turnover in 43 minutes played so far. Not a whole lot more you can ask for from a freshman floor general. Groce has been impressed, too.

“He’s been a guy who’s been able to take care of the basketball for us. We need that moving forward,” Groce said. “That’s one of the areas we’ve identified with this team — we’ve got to take care of the basketball. You certainly don’t want to beat yourself.”

As a team, Illinois has dished out 28 assists and committed 20 turnovers. In the win against Jacksonville State, the Illini turned it over just five times to 14 assists.

Valparaiso (2-0) at Illinois (2-0) — 6:30 p.m. (BTN)

Good evening and welcome to the first televised basketball game of the Illinois season. Yes, you can finally watch your beloved Illini on an actual TV screen and not through a spotty Internet feed on your laptop or desktop computer.

Don’t get too comfortable, though, Sunday’s game against Bradley will be back on the computer.

This will probably be the toughest test for the Illini to date this season with Valpo having so much size. The Crusaders have three players who are 6-foot-10 or taller and their big guys have some girth, too. Should be interesting to see how Nnanna Egwu, Maverick Morgan, Jon Ekey and Austin Colbert respond to the challenge.

Oh, by the way, today is signing day. Michael Finke had a ceremony at Centennial earlier today. Our Matt Daniels, who will join me here at the State Farm Center later, was there for the festivities.

Since today was a game day, John Groce did not have a news conference to discuss the new class, which includes Leron Black and Quentin Snider. He’ll talk about it later this week. He’s also hoping to land Cliff Alexander on Friday when the big man makes his announcement.

Groce did speak in general terms about the class yesterday.

“We’re excited anytime anyone joins our family,” Groce said. “We’ve got a lot of special guys in our program now and anytime you get a chance to add special people and players to your program it’s a blessing. We’re very excited.”

Malcolm Hill beat Jon Ekey onto the floor today. Ekey had been the first of the eligible Illini to take the court the first two games of the season. The freshman was eager tonight.

Ekey, the fifth-year guy gets some early shots up here at the State Farm Center and he finally got one to drop Sunday against Jacksonville State. Ekey had a dunk and knocked down a three for his first two field goals in an Illinois uniform against the Gamecocks.

“It was just one of those things where shots just weren’t going,” Ekey said. “All the coaches and all the guys just told me to keep shooting. I got one to go there later in the game. That’ll be good to keep getting some shots up.”

Like I said, Daniels is here with me tonight. He’ll talk to Seth Davis, who’s calling his first game for the Big Ten Network tonight. Davis was at that awesome event last night at the United Center where No. 2 Michigan State beat No. 1 Kentucky and No. 5 Kansas beat No. 4 Duke. Everyone’s been talking about the freshmen and those guys didn’t disappoint last night. Julius Randle was sensational and Andrew Wiggins bounced back from a slow start. Jabari Parker was special last night. I better not hear anyone else say “He’s overrated” or “He’s just never impressed me.” The two-time News-Gazette Player of the Year showed what all the hype was about last night.

I’m headed on the radio with Tate and Steve Kelly. I’ll be back with you shortly.

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