LIVE! vs. Bradley
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LIVE! vs. Bradley

Illinois 81, Bradley 55 — FINAL

CHAMPAIGN — Jon Ekey drilled five three-pointers and scored a season-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds in leading the Illini to a comfortable win against the visiting Braves on Sunday at State Farm Center.

Ekey, the former Illinois State standout, moves to 7-0 in his career against the Missouri Valley school. He was three points shy of equaling his career high in scoring, one game after pulling down a career-best 15 rebounds.

Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Illini while Tracy Abrams added 12 points and eight boards.

Nnanna Egwu finished with 10 points and seven boards. The junior has scored exactly 10 points in all four games this season.

The Illini held the Braves (4-1) to 28.1 percent shooting in the first half. Bradley made 9 of 32 shots.

More later on HQ.

Illinois 59, Bradley 38 — 9:35 second half

Rayvonte Rice nearly threw down a tip dunk that would have easily topped the one that landed him at No. 3 on “Sportscenter’s” Top 10 last week against Valparaiso.

Tracy Abrams opened the second half with a careless turnover, attempting an over-the-shoulder pass on a break. He made up for it, burying a three the next trip down.

Jon Ekey pulled down another rebound of the first possession of the half for Bradley, too.

Bertrand backed up Abrams’ three with a triple of his own. The Tracy hit another one. What’s going on here?

Illinois’ first four buckets of the half were all threes.

Geno Ford’s working the officials.

Ekey has buried five three-pointers. He’s got 19 points and seven rebounds.

This one’s pretty much over.

Mike LaTulip hasn’t played. He’s the only one to not see any action.

Austin Colbert buried a nice corner jumper off a feed from Kendrick Nunn. That was very Mike Davis-like.

Kendrick Nunn taking a seat for not hustling after a loose ball.

Illinois 34, Bradley 19 — HALFTIME

Jon Ekey has found his shooting stroke. He’s got three three-pointers. His tip dunks are falling tonight, too. He had a monster two-handed follow. He missed at least two the othr night. He’s showcasing the whole skill set today.

It’s Ekey’s first game in double figures in an Illinois uniform.

Rayvonte Rice had a shot at the buzzer in the same spot Ekey buried his at the buzzer the other night. Ray missed his.

Bradley went seven and a half minutes without scoring. Just don’t think the Braves have much juice after playing Friday night. This is their fifth game in 10 days, too.

Great defensive half for the Illini.

The Illinois guards not doing a good job of finding Egwu in the post. He’s been open a lot with Bradley playing a zone.

Kendrick Nunn gave the Illini some good minutes early. That’s a good sign after he played just two minutes against Valpo on Wednesday. He hit Rice with a nice alley-oop pass, grabbed a rebound and just missed a three-pointer going down. John Groce was begging for that three to drop.

Rice and Bradley’s Xzavier Taylor were hit with double technicals. Couldn’t see what happened, but Taylor picked up his third personal before the under-8 timeout.

“Great block out,” the Illinois coaches yelled at Malcolm Hill when he checkedout of the game.

Does Walt Lemon have the “Jr.” on the back of his jersey so we don’t get him confused with his dad?

Bradley’s Auston Barnes picked up three fouls in the first half. He was a big-time hockey player through high school, makes sense that he’s physical.

Illinois shot 13 for 31 (41.9 percent) in the half and 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from long range.

Bradley was 9 for 32 (28.1 percent) and 1 for 9 (11.1 percent) from three.

Illinois got 11 points and six boards from Jon Ekey. Nnanna Egwu had six points and seven boards.

Tyshon Pickett led Bradley with six points. Walt Lemon was held to four points.

Illinois 9, Bradley 8 — 11:49 first half

Another Jon Ekey offensive rebound ended with Ekey hitting a three.

Ekey’s already grabbed three boards. He had 15 the other night. He’s familiar with Bradley, having spent four years in the Missouri Valley.

Looks like Abrams is struggling a bit with that injured hamstring.

All of Bradley’s early buckets were layups. All four, actually, have been layups, if I’m not mistaken.

Illinois has already played nine guys. Maverick Morgan picked up two quick fouls. He’s going to sit a little bit.

Austin Colbert and Mike LaTulip are the only two who have yet to play. We will see them, certainly.

I think the Orange Krush got the Bradley players with the fake shot-clock countdown on the first possession of the game. The Izzone helped win Michigan State a game like that the other night against Columbia. They got two in a row late in a close game.

Press row was staying up to date with the Bears game. They won!

They showed a delayed replay of the game-winning field goal here in overtime. The fans approved. We need a few more field goals to go down in this game. Both teams are right at about 30 percent.

Bradley (4-0) at Illinois (3-0) — TIPOFF (BTDN)

There was a moment of silence, thoughts and prayers to Gifford, Villa Grove and Hoopeston, as well as the Bradley community and the Peoria area.

Same starters for the Illini: Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.

Abrams is wearing tape above his left eye. Must have been cut.

Jim Burr is one of your officials today. Yay!

Mike Shaw is here. He came out of the tunnel wearing a gray sweater, white shirt and red tie. He exchanged hugs with all the Illinois staffers. Geno Ford said he’s been unbelievable on and off the court at Bradley.

He and Mike LaTulip spent a few minutes together, too.

We’ll have more on Mike in tomorrow’s coverage.

On the radio this week, Geno said Mike Shaw was their player to be named later in the Sam Maniscalco trade. That’s good stuff.

Maniscalco is here, too. The former Brave and Illini is wearing a black jacket and gray Bradley sweats.

Illinois women’s assistant Mike Divilbiss is seated in the A section right next to the tunnel in the first row. He’s probably taking notes.

Jerry Hester is FaceTiming with his son, Jerry Hester III.

Looks like a big group of Bradley students made the trip. There are a bunch of them in the upper reaches of Section C. Looks like Illinois sold some of those student seats that typically go unused at the top of C, too. Bradley fans are occupying that space.

John Groce is featured on today’s poster.

The Bears game was shown on the scoreboard during warm-ups. It’s time for the Soldier Field folks to swallow their pride and install some darn artificial turf. It gets ridiculous up there.

Fans here were cheering good plays by the Bears. It was turend off as Baltimore was driving late in the fourth quarter.

Bradley (4-0) at Illinois (3-0) — 5 p.m. BTDN

I caught the end of the Illinois women’s game today. Matt Bollant’s club had 92 points with 10 minutes left in the second half. They beat Alcorn State 112-28.

Today’s men’s game is a civil war of sorts. Bradley coach Geno Ford is the older brother of Illinois assistant coach Dustin Ford. The Ford brothers each starred at Ohio University, Geno actually coached Dustin for a couple of years there.

They come from a coaching family. Their dad Gene is a Hall of Fame coach in Ohio. He coached his boys at Cambridge High. Gene is now the head coach at Division III Muskingum University. He won’t be here today, he’s got a game today.

I spoke with the coaching Fords this week. They’re all pretty hilarious.

Dustin said he’s always wanted to coach.

“I can’t remember how young I was when I wanted to coach, but it’s all I ever wanted to do. You grow up in a family where basketball is 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, that’s what you know,” he said. “If I wasn’t coaching, I don’t know what else I’d do. We loved to play and we loved to be around it, so we couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The brothers both coached in the Mid-American Conference at the same time and that caused for their relationship to be put on hold at times, especially during the season.

“That was the hardest time because the Mid-American Conference is a good league, but it’s really hard because you’re all fighting for one bid to the tournament. You’re not getting two bids and its just meant to make everybody miserable because you know in the end only one team is getting to the NCAA tournament. We were in the same division, so we played each other twice,” Geno said. “When he was at Western Carolina, Dustin and I talked on the phone just about every day. We’d talk about their team, my team. When he was at Ohio, we didn’t talk a lot during the season in those years. We spoke, but there was just so much on the line for both of us. It’s been nice ever since I’ve been at Bradley and he’s at Illinois, we’ve gotten into the rhythm of talking about all those things.”

They’re competitive as heck, but Dustin and Geno have a lot of respect for one another. Dustin raved about how good a player Geno was. Geno was a high-volume shooter and scorer. Geno respects Dustin’s game, too. Dustin was a heady, pass-first point guard who took care of the ball.

Dad says the brothers gang up on him all the time.

“They’re always ribbing me about something. It’s always 2 on 1 when we get together,” Gene said.

Looking forward to the matchup today.

There’s a chance you’ll see former Illini Mike Shaw here today. Shaw transferred to Bradley in April. He’s sitting out this season to satisfy the transfer rules. Geno said Mike might make the trip over on his own, he can’t travel with the team.

Illini recruiting target Aaron Jordan is here with his dad Rob. Aaron’s wearing his Illinois pullover.

Some of the women’s players are here for the men’s game.

Bradley (4-0) at Illinois (3-0) — 5 p.m. BTDN

Good afternoon and my hope is that wherever you’re reading this from that you and your loved ones are safe. What a horrific day here in central Illinois with tornadoes causing some serious damage.

I’ve seen photos from Washington, Ill. and I’ve read that as many as 300 homes have been completely destroyed. I have friends’ whose families are in Washington and I’m hoping they are OK.

That’s in the Peoria area, which is near the Bradley campus. No word yet on how any of today’s events have affected the Braves’ basketball team. Just a terrible day.

Gifford, Ill. has apparently also been destroyed. I spent a few years playing baseball in Gifford. Great people there. This is heartbreaking stuff.

Hopefully basketball can provide a brief distraction from the real problems going on.

Today’s game will be a welcomed distraction for the Illinois basketball team that got bad news Friday morning when committed point guard Quentin Snider backed out of that and signed with Louisville. Later in the day, Cliff Alexander toyed with Illinois emotions by first picking up and Illini cap before dropping it and pulling on a Kansas cap.

John Groce spoke yesterday about the signings of Leron Black and Michael Finke. He didn’t mention Alexander or Snider by name, but he made his feelings known.

Groce was on fire yesterday, here are a couple of quotes from him that I didn’t include in today’s story.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our vision and where we want to go and the commitment we have to that and last year’s players had to that, the commitment our administration has to that, the commitment that this year’s players have. That’s not changing. One of the former players text me today ‘The one thing I know about you, Coach, that freight train’s moving and you better jump on’ and we want guys that want to jump on with two feet. If you don’t want to be on with two feet, you’re going to get run over and that freight train’s moving. It’s moving and we’ve got to keep nudging it and pushing it and driving it forward and we’re committed to doing that today as much, if not more so than we were when we started on March 29, 2012. I think we’re in a great place, now we’ve just got to continue to move forward.”

There were some interesting comments from Curie coach Mike Oliver shortly after Alexander announced for the Jayhawks.

“It’s disappointing that we continue to have the best players in the state go out of the state. It’s a sad moment for the state of Illinois, but it’s the kid’s decision, we’ve got to live with it and wish him the best,” Oliver said. “I think Illinois did everything they possibly could do. They recruited him the right way. I think he just went with his gut.”

Oliver said Illinois was still very much a likely destination for Alexander an hour before the announcement was made.

“They were in it up until the last minute. At 2 o’clock, we were twisting our arms on which way to go. He said ‘Coach, I want to go to Kansas, that’s my gut feeling’ and I told him to go with his gut,” Oliver said.

As for today’s game, I believe Sam Maniscalso, the former Braves and Illini point guard will be here. Sam told me at Big Ten media day he was really looking forward to today. He’ll remain neutral. He helped the Braves beat the Illini in Las Vegas back in 2009.

Groce is concerned about Bradley’s Walt Lemon. The Chicago Julian product can flat-out score it. Expect to see multiple guys get a shot at guarding him today.

Dustin Ford and his older brother Geno Ford spent a few minutes on the floor before the game chatting one another up. They look nearly identical, Dustin's a little bit taller if you can believe that. We'll have more on those guys later.

Malcolm Hill was the first Illini on the floor today. They'll wear white. Bradley will wear red.

I’m going to go talk to some folks. I’ll be back with another update shortly.

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