LIVE! from Philips Arena

Illinois 81, Auburn 62 — FINAL

ATLANTA — With NBA great and Auburn alum Charles Barkley watching from courtside, Illinois put together its finest performance of the season in dismantling the Tigers at Philips Arena on Sunday.

Tracy Abrams led the way with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Illini, who rebounded after losing Tuesday at Georgia Tech.

Rayvonte Rice added a game-high 22 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists for Illinois (8-1).

The Illini held Chris Denson, the SEC’s top scorer at 22.1 points per game, to six on Sunday.

Jon Ekey (12 points) also reached double figures for the Illini.

More later on HQ.

Illinois 61, Auburn 34 — 10:59 second half

Rayvonte Rice’s mom got a photo with Charles Barkley at halftime. Rice then scored Illinois’ first tow buckets of the second half.

Illinois is playing its best game of the season, by far. Auburn isn’t very good, but the Illini are doing their part in taking care of business. Impressive showing after Tuesday’s debacle.

I’m told Kiwane Garris didn’t make it to today’s game.

Sam McLaurin joined Brian Barnhart on the radio at halftime.

Steve Greenberg from the Chicago Sun-Times made the trip for this game. Steve covered the SEC title game yesterday. He’s really good at his job.

Fletcher Page, a north Georgia native, is also here. Fletcher works for Scout.com.

Rob McColley is also here covering the Illini. Rob talked with Barkley at halftime. Look for his stuff, I’m sure it’ll be entertaining.

Looks like Charles Barkley left at the first media timeout of the second half. He’s seen enough. I don’t blame him, as he would say, “Auburn is turrible!”

As it turns out, Barkley was doing a TV interview. But I didn’t feel like erasing that line.

Jerry Hester was just critiquing my fantasy football team. I’m locked in a first-round playoff battle. I should win, though. Fingers crossed.

By the way, this was the first game since Chicago State that the Illini led at the half. They closed the half on an 18-4 run and led by as many as 30 at one point early here in the second half.

Illinois 41, Auburn 17 — HALFTIME

When Tracy Abrams buried that three-pointer just before the half, he turned to Charles Barkley, said something and the Illini point guard and one of the NBA’s Top 50 players of all time shared a laugh.

Pretty cool moment for Tracy.

Pretty good half for the Illini who have made seven three-pointers.

Jon Ekey took a charge, it was a close call. I thought it was a block, especially under the new rules. Jon might have taken a shot to the groin on that play, too. That’s the price you pay for sacrificing the body.

Abrams has knocked down a pair of NBA threes. He’s having a heck of a day. Good for him.

Of Illinois’ first 26 points, 18 were the result of the three-point shot and Rayvonte Rice had yet to score. He scored the 27th and 28th points.

Someone asked before the game who would score more points this weekend, the Auburn football team or the Auburn hoops team? The football Tigers scored 59 in the win against Missouri yesterday across the street at the Georgia Dome.

There are a couple of NBA scouts here. They look like they might have been scouting Dave Downey back in the day.

Teddy Valentine did his thing, stealing a moment in the game to tell Rayvonte Rice and Ashaun Dixon-Tatum to knock it off. They weren’t really doing anything. Rice and Dixon-Tatum slapped one another on the back and kept playing. Then Rice made a highlight-reel reverse layup.

Just before the half, Tracy Abrams errantly threw a pass to Mike Kitts. He then ran to retrieve the ball and handed it to the official.

For the half, the Illini shot 15 for 24 (62.5 percent) from the floor and 7 for 12 (58.3 percent) from behind the arc.

They out-rebounded the Tigers 16-9.

Abrams leads with 11 points, Rice has eight and Ekey has six.

The Tigers shot 6 for 21 (28.5 percent) and 0 for 5 from three. That’s 0 percent, FYI.

Illinois 17, Auburn 9 — 11:25 first half

Maverick Morgan’s foul troubles continue. The freshman big man picked up two quick ones.

Official Jeffrey Anderson’s whistle broke, well, the lanyard on his whistle broke.

Ted Valentine came over to us and said “It would be like the old Big Ten, no whistles. I referred those old games with Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, I know how that goes.”

Tracy Abrams got a haircut. He also had a nice drive to the basket on the game’s first possession. Then he read a play and had a nice steal. Then he had a great pass in the paint to Nnanna Egwu. Great start for the Illini point guard.

John Groce: “Boy, are we moving”

Jamall Walker: “Good start, good start!”

Some Illinois fans to my left have a sign attempting to make the FSN broadcast. It says “Fighting Illini

Southern

Nation”

FSN, get it?

Sir Charles loved the alley-oop pass to Chris Denson. He applauded.

He couldn’t believe the bounce Ekey got on his second three-pointer.. Barkley raised his arms after it wet down.

John Groce was just telling Ted Valentine something he learned the other night during the Georgia Tech game about how the officials watch certain things.

“Great minutes, dude,” Dustin Ford told Jaylon Tate when he checked out.

Illinois (7-1) vs. Auburn (4-2) — 2 p.m. (Fox Sports Midwest)

The familiar faces keep popping up. Charles Barkley is seated courtside right at about midcourt on the side closest to where Illinois will shoot in the first half.

Rhonda Rice, Rayvonte’s mom, is here. She was elated to see Sam McLaurin. Lorita Bertrand is here, too. John Groce’s wife and kids are here, too. Jaylon Tate’s grandparents are here, too.

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

A banner above tells me Philips Arena is the world’s first LEED certified arena. That has something to do with being green and healthy. You can look it up.

Another banner tells me Dominique Wilkins played for the Hawks, he wore No. 21 and he was really good.

Ted Turner has a banner, too.

Auburn’s tiger is here. He’s wearing a uniform with the No. 01.

Again, way more Illinois fans here today.

Auburn is sponsored by Under Armour and they will use an Under Armour ball today. It looks different than the Nike, Adidas and Wilson balls.

John Groce’s family is seated right behind me. The boys were excited to see Dad before the tip.

They turned the lights off for the Auburn lineup and tried to get the crowd hype. It didn't work, there aren't enough people here cheering for the Tigers.

Illinois (7-1) vs. Auburn (4-2) — 2 p.m. (Fox Sports Midwest)

Lots of familiar faces here in Philips Arena. Former Illini Sam McLaurin is seated behind the team bench. Sam played professionally in Finland for alittle while this season before returning home after tearing his meniscus. It’s the same injury Derrick Rose has. Sam plans to rehab the injury back in the States and he’s actually planning to move to Champaign after Christmas to rehab and work while preparing to continue his pro career.

Sam just caught up with the Illini coaching staff as the team took the floor.

Former Illinois sports information director Cassie Arner is here, too. Cassie now works at Auburn as an assistant athletic director for public relations. She’s obviously thrilled with what’s happening in their athletic department.

Illinois sports information director Derrick Burson tells me Kiwane Garris is expected to be in attendance today. Garris was at the Georgia tech game, too.

Ervin Small, who I wrote about today, will also be here.

Very small crowd here so far. A smattering of applause went up when the Illini took the court. So far, there are more Illinois fans here. I’d be shocked if there were more than 3,000 people here today.

The seats in the upper reaches of Philips Arena are blocked off today.

Ted Valentine, Mike Kitts and Jeffrey Anderson are your officials today.

Illinois played Georgia down here a few years ago and attended an Atlanta Hawks game the night before. The only member of the current team who would have been on that trip is Joseph Bertrand. Joe was redshirting that year as a true freshman.

Mike LaTulip’s parents made the trip, they’re behind the team bench. I see a lot of other familiar Illinois faces here, too.

Illinois (7-1) vs. Auburn (4-2) — 2 p.m. (Fox Sports Midwest)

Good afternoon from beautiful Philips Arena where the Illini and Tigers will meet on the home court of the Atlanta Hawks.

This arena is very heavy on corporate suites and such. The entire southwest side of the arena (opposite the team benches) is for suite holders. The scoreboards and video boards are fairly impressive. I’m guessing they were made by Philips.

It’s been a rainy week here in Atlanta and that continued today, but I bet you Auburn fans don’t give a rip about that. Tigers folks are all over the city and many of them stayed out all night celebrating the win against Missouri in the SEC title game yesterday across the street at the Georgia Dome and watched intently as Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

Auburn certainly is going to play for a national championship.

There was a woman at dinner last night watching the end of the MSU-OSU game and she cheered every positive Spartans play in the most pleasant, high-pitched voice you’ve ever heard. It wasn’t annoying at all.

Congrats to Auburn. I’m wondering how many of the football fans will come over for the hoops game today. Basketball is an afterthought there.

As for the game, this is a big one in terms of bouncing back for the Illini. There’s no other way to characterize Tuesday’s loss at Georgia Tech other than to call it bad. If it makes you feel better, the Yellow Jackets bounced back last night and beat East Tennessee by 30.

The Tigers feature a guard-oriented attack and they love taking the ball to the basket. Illinois will have to guard Chris Denson and KT Harrell without fouling them and sending them to the line.

Auburn scored 79 points in the meeting with Illinois last year at the United Center. They can score some points.

“They carved us up, we didn’t guard them very well,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We were terrific on offense; we almost out-offensed them, if you will. I hope our defense is a lot better than it was certainly when we defended them last year.”

There you have it.

Both teams are out here on the court. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is playing. Such a catchy song, it really gets people moving.

Auburn is wearing orange today. The Illini will wear blue.

The doors aren’t open yet, at least I don’t think they are. There are no fans in the seats right now. It’s like we’re at Georgia Tech all over again.

It’ll be hard to tell just by looking which fans are here for Illinois and which are for Auburn with the color schemes being the same and all. We’ll wait until the noise starts being made.

I’ll be back.

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JimOATSfan wrote on December 08, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Any sign of Jay Prosch in the crowd?  When he transferred to Auburn, so did our running game.

Go Illini!

Collatine wrote on December 08, 2013 at 2:12 pm

"I’m guessing they were made by Philips." I love your whismical style in these updates.  They crack me up. Should have included a picture of your future wife at whatever game it was that you saw her.  Seriously, you're a great writer and reporter. Keep it up. 

crackerman wrote on December 08, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Don't know about anyone else, but Fox Sports Midwest has blacked out the game!

Bwp 5P wrote on December 08, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I found it on Dish 422. I sure don't get why I have all those channels from Fox but even if I'm 1.2 million miles from the venue.....I can't watch it!

ERE wrote on December 08, 2013 at 7:12 pm
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I agree-love these streams of consciousness game updates from Marcus! Very funny