Live! From Las Vegas
Illinois 61, UNLV 59 — FINAL
LAS VEGAS — Rayvonte Rice scored a game-high 25 points, including a layup in traffic during a tie game with 27.9 seconds remaining to send the Illini to victory in front of a raucous Thomas & Mack Center crowd.
Rice, the transfer from Drake, also grabbed 10 rebounds. The 25 points were four shy of his career high.
Nnanna Egwu, saddled with foul trouble in the first half, limiting him to four minutes of action, scored 10 second-half points, including a pair of three-pointers to spark the Illini.
Rice and Egwu were the only two Illini to scored in double figures. Jon Ekey was scoreless and 0 for 5 from behind the three-point line until he buried a triple late in the second half for the Illini, who moved to 6-0 with the win.
More later on HQ.
UNLV 47, Illinois 47 — 11:41 second half
All of a sudden, the raucous, beer-guzzling crowd seems to be a bit nervous with Illinois getting itself back into this thing, erasing the 10-point halftime deficit.
Rayvonte Rice was playing like a grown man to start the half. He went on a personal 5-0 run to cut the UNLV lead in half, forcing Dave Rice to call timeout. Rayvonte and Dave are not related, I don’t think.
He ended up scoring the first nine Illinois points of the half.
Tracy Abrams should have scored the 10th and 11th but he missed an uncontested layup. He went with the right hand on the left side. Then Kendrick Nunn couldn’t finish an alley-oop. Illinois has to convert the easy ones to win on the road. Not much margin for error.
Jaylon Tate hit Nnanna Egwu with a pair of lobs for two straight buckets. The young fella is looking real comfortable leading the offense in this tough environment.
Weird, when I talked to Doug Gottlieb before the game, he was raving about Rayvonte Rice. From my Twitter feed, it sounds as if he wasn’t very kind to him on the broadcast.
How about Nnanna Egwu stepping out and drilling the three? That was Mike Tisdaleesque. Remember when he shot the lights out against Gonzaga in Seattle?
The dance team is back out there. Mercy! They’re good.
My future wife is working here, too. Not sure what she does, like a hostess or something, but she’s beautiful. Sorry, I forgot what I was supposed to be writing about for a second. Forgive me.
UNLV 39, Illinois 29 — HALFTIME
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been able to watch much of the first half. I’ve been buried in my computer getting stuff in for tomorrow’s paper. This 9:45 p.m. start is a deadline killer.
Also, hard to see anything when the basket standard and the shot clock are blocking your view of the game.
I know the rebels are shooting the ball much better tonight than they have all season.
They were shooting 41 percent from the floor entering the game.
They’re at 42 percent, but they missed three bunnies in the final five seconds. They’re 4 for 9 (44.4 percent) from three. They were shooting 33 percent entering from long range.
Oh, they’re 100 percent from the foul line (9 for 9). They were shooting 51 percent entering, worst in the country.
Illinois is shooting 32 percent (12 for 37) from the floor and from three (2 for 6). The Illini are 3 for 5 from the foul line and that includes a missed front end of a 1 and 1.
Rayvonte Rice leads the way with 12 points. Tracy Abrams has five.
Rice and Joseph Bertrand have five rebounds each to lead Illinois. The Illini actually out-rebounded the Rebels 23-22 in the half. Maverick Morgan has four boards.
Eight turnovers and five assists have not helped Illinois.
I know Maverick Morgan had a nice offensive rebound and out back. He’s played a lot with Nnanna Egwu in foul trouble.
I know Joseph Bertrand threw down an impressive alley-oop. I know that because someone text me about it.
I know everyone in attendance tonight gets two free tacos from Jack-In-The-Box if UNLV scores at least 70 tonight.
I know this would be a much worse result for the Illini if the rebels would have converted any of the three consecutive shots they got in the lane in the last five seconds.
I know my prediction streak is going to be halted at 17 straight if this keeps up. That’s an unofficial number, by the way, but I’m pretty sure I ended the season on a 12-game streak.
UNLV 16, Illinois 15 — 11:01 first half
Rayvonte Rice hit his first three-pointer and he got loose for a dunk. Even after being denied in the lane very early, there’s no fear in the Champaign native’s game. He just goes.
UNLV has made a nice run since the Illini took a 13-8 lead. The crowd’s getting into it. The lower bowl is full and it’s getting pretty loud.
By the way, Flava Flav is sitting courtside. That doesn’t happen in most other places. Las Vegas is a heck of a town. I’m told he occasionally plays in the pep band.
The Illinois bench is pretty energetic here in the early going. It reminds me of how they were early in the season last year at Gonzaga.
With Nnanna Egwu and Jon Ekey each picking up early fouls, John Groce opted to play a little bit of zone defense against the Rebels. Might be the only way to keep guys on the floor tonight.
Egwu picked up a bad second foul after getting a blocked shot on the first attempt on the same play. Illinois is going to need a lot from Morgan and Austin Colbert.
Speaking of foul trouble, look for Illinois to really try to drive tonight and force the Rebels to guard without fouling. UNLV doesn’t go real deep on its bench.
Dance team is on the floor. I’m very interested in this. I’ll be back.
Illinois (5-0) at UNLV (2-2) — TIPOFF (CBS Sports Network)
Spoke with CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb before the game. Gottlieb, the former Oklahoma State point guard, loves what Jon Ekey and Rayvonte Rice have added to Illinois.
He’s shocked at what Ekey’s provided. Gottlieb saw Rice and Drake and liked him then. He thinks Rice is Illinois’ best player and he’ll get paid to play basketball one day.
He think this is a true barometer for both teams. It’s been hard to evaluate Illinois against the level of competition and tonight will go a long way in determining what kind of team Illinois is.
We’ll have more from Gottlieb in tomorrow’s coverage in the paper and here online.
Illinois will start the same five: Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.
UNLV is going with Roscoe Smith, Khem Birch, Kevin Olekaibe, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kendall Smith.
Look for Dejean-Jones to start on Rice. He’s a real good defender, I’m told.
Ran into a group of Illinois fans a bit ago, all of whom are wearing orange sports coats. There’s some orange and blue trickled in here. I’ve spotted Rayvonte Rice’s mom.
Illinois (5-0) at UNLV (2-2) — 9:45p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
No other Illinois media here tonight besides myself and Rob McColley from Smile Politely. Rob’s sitting somewhere on the floor with his camera. I’m sitting in the worst seat in the house. Dead center behind the basket that UNLV will shoot at in the first half. Can’t express how bad the view is from here.
Some of the families of the Illinois coaching staff made the trip west. I’ve seen Marcie Ford and Rebekah Walker. Paris Parham and John Groce’s wives are here, too. Mike and Jeni Thomas are seated behind the Illinois bench.
Also ran into John Groce dad Larry and John’s stepmom Linda at the hotel on the way over today. Everything John Groce has said in the media about UNLV being freaky athletic and talented is the same things he’s been saying privately to his dad.
They’re all looking forward to the matchup.
One thing I’ve noticed here in Vegas is the cab drivers are really chatty. That’s fine, just different than the non-social Chicago cabbies. My driver on the way to the arena today admitted he knows little about basketball, but he did say “They Rebels are stinking it up this year, aren’t they?” He knows that much. Don’t think the gentleman ever shared his name with me, but he’s hoping to change careers. He’s been driving cabs for 20 years but recently interviewed for a job as a graphic designer. He finds out tomorrow whether he got the job. Best wishes, sir.
The Illini will remain here in Las Vegas tonight after the game and will watch film and begin to prepare for IPFW here in town before taking the charter flight back to Champaign. The really quick turnaround to Friday’s game at State Farm Center will provide quite the challenge.
I thought maybe they were going to stick around for the Justin Timberlake tour, which comes to the MGM Grand on Friday. Apparently, they’ve got more pressing matters back in Champaign. I wish I could stay for that.
Spent some time with a few Illinois fans last night on the Las Vegas strip. Current Orange Krush member McKennon Biers is here with his dad and Illinois alum Cary McMillan is in town and entertained the folks who made the trip. They’ll be here at the Thomas & Mack.
Rhonda Rice, Rayvonte’s mom, told me she was going to be here. Arisa Johnson, Jaylon Tate’s mom, also said she’d be here. I’ll try to find them.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard about former Illini Jereme Richmond being sentenced to three years in prison for threatening a probation officer. Very sad to see it come to this for the once-promising Richmond. He’s had plenty of chances, however, and has been given every opportunity to lead a good life, but he’s chosen otherwise. Perhaps this will be the wake-up call it appears he desperately needs.
Illinois (5-0) at UNLV (2-2) — 9:45p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Good evening from beautiful Las Vegas, where I’m hoping many of you will be able to stay up late to watch the Illini in their first true test of the season here at the Thomas & Mack Center against the Runnin’ Rebels.
Strangely, this is the fifth time these two teams have met on the basketball court but the first in either of the home arenas. They’ve played in New York, Maui, Tulsa and Chicago, but never in Las Vegas or Champaign.
They’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of this building this week. It opened in November of 1983. It got a big renovation in 1999 and they added a fancy new video board in 2008, very similar to the one in State Farm Center.
This building has seen a little bit of everything from basketball to rodeos, arena football, hockey, boxing, mixed martial arts, professional wrestling. It’s huge. It’s about 3 and a half miles away from my hotel and I can see it easily from my 10th-floor window.
It also saw a women’s game earlier tonight. UNLV hosted Utah on Jerry Tarkanian Court and the Utes came away with a 66-59 victory. As I walked into the building with not a soul questioning who I was or what my reason for being there, the Utes women were running off the court into the locker room for halftime. Coach Anthony Levrets told the assistants they should have been up by 20. They were leading 36-28 at the time. There were about 173 people in the stands when I got here for the women’s game.
Anyway, they’re going to play men’s hoops here tonight and I’m really anticipating what exactly is going to happen. UNLV has two losses, plus an exhibition loss to Division II Dixie State. John Groce raves about the Rebels’ talent, though, and they’re certainly capable of being a really good team. They were picked second in the preseason Mountain West poll behind New Mexico. The MWC is considered a college basketball power conference.
The Rebels have been getting monster production from forward Roscoe Smith. The transfer from Connecticut is averaging 16.3 rebounds per game. In the loss to Arizona State last week, Smith had 18 points and 21 rebounds. He had 22 boards in the previous game against Omaha.
It’s not just him. Frontcourt mate Khem Birch, a transfer from Pittsburgh, is averaging 11.3 rebounds and 5.5 blocks.
“Do I consider us a 1-2 punch?” Smith told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think we’re perfect together. We’re best of friends on and off the court. I love playing with Khem and he loves playing with me. He has a lot of trust in me and I have a lot of trust in him.”
They knew one another from the old Big East days.