No. 15 Oregon 71, Illinois 64 — FINAL
PORTLAND, Ore. — The final totals on the scoreboard didn’t add up the way they wanted, but when the Illinois players walked off the Moda Center floor Saturday night after its 71-64 loss to No. 15 Oregon, the couple thousands folks dressed in orange stood and cheered their team as it disappeared into its locker room.
John Groce’s club isn’t into moral victories, and a program the caliber of Illinois’ shouldn’t be, but the Illini will head into final exams knowing it can compete with some of the nation’s best.
The Illini were led by the bakcourt tandem of Rayvonte Rice (16 points, four rebounds) and Tracy Abrams (16 points, five assists) on the home court of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers.
The Illini, who also got 10 points and eight rebounds from Jon Ekey, played long stretches of the game with starters Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu on the bench saddled with foul trouble.
In Egwu’s absence, freshman big man Maverick Morgan played solid minutes, giving Illinois (9-2) four points, despite battling foul Trouble of his own.
Defensively, Illinois was stout, limiting an Oregon team that entered the game ranked among the top five in the country in points scored (91.4) to 71 Saturday, It was only the second time this season the Ducks (9-0) failed to score at least 80 points.
The Illini built a 50-41 lead with 13 minutes remaining on a layup by Rice, sending the Illini fans into a frenzy. But Oregon responded with an 18-3 run to take control of the game and the atmosphere, as the rest of the crowd, dressed in lightning yellow and thunder green, who made the 110-mile trip from Oregon’s Eugene campus, stood and cheered the rest of the game.
The Ducks got 14 points apiece from Mike Moser (nine rebounds) and Joseph Young, while Elgin Cook added 12 off the bench and Damyean Young chipped in 10. Johnathan Loyd, who scored Oregon’s final six points, finished with 11.
The Ducks out-rebounded the Illini 31-27, including a 27-8 advantage in the second half.
Illinois 50, Oregon 45 — 11:32 second half
After Jaylon Tate hit Austin Colbert with a beautiful no-look pass for an easy dunk five minutes into the half, the Illinois fans went nuts. It got real loud in here from those folks. That play gave the Illini a 44-37 lead.
The Illini actually built a 50-41 lead, but the Ducks made back-to-back buckets and brought the crowd back to life.
Jon Ekey has drawn two charges.
Tracy Abrams continues to have a heck of a game for the Illini. They’re where they’re at right now playing a good chunk without Nnanna Egwu and Joseph Bertrand.
Some early three-pointers from Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey got the Illinois fans up and screaming.
Nnanna Egwu got called for his third foul 15 seconds into the second half. It’s been a rough couple of games for the big man, who had been dealing with an illness.
It happened so quick that Steve Greenberg thought Maverick Morgan started the half.
Got word at halftime that former Illinois big man Meyers Leonard was ejected from his game tonight in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Apparently the Portland Trailblazer body slammed a guy. We’re in Meyers’ home arena.
No. 15 Oregon 32, Illinois 32 — HALFTIME
These dudes from Oregon can really shoot it. They’ve done most of their damage via the jump shot.
Tracy Abrams ha brought it tonight for the Illini. He had a nice run late in the half to tie it at 32. He leads the Illini with 10 points. Rayvonte Rice has eight.
Joseph Bertrand has made a couple of Joseph Bertrand moves to the bucket. You know what I’m talking about, moves he made against Mizzou and Nebraska a couple of years ago. That’s a good sign.
It was only a matter of time before Nnanna Egwu got whistled for that illegal screen. He keeps sticking his elbow out to make contact at the point.
Real strong drive to the basket for Kendrick Nunn midway through the half. He just couldn’t get it to stay down.
Back-to-back missed layups during a late stretch by Jaylon Tate didn’t help matters. Both great drives by him, but he’s got to be able to finish those.
Illinois has missed about a half dozen shots from point-blank range.
The Illini shot 12 for 31 (38.7 percent) from the floor and 2 for 10 from three.
Oregon shot 13 for 25 (52 percent) from the floor and 2 for 9 (22.2 percent) from long range.
Illinois out-rebounded the Ducks 19-14. Ekey and Rice had four boards apiece.
With as many missed layups as the Illini had and with Bertrand, Ekey and Egwu sitting with two fouls, the Illini have to be pretty pleased with where they are right now. Have to convert the bunnies.
Maverick Morgan has three fouls. That dude sure can foul. His third was a bad call. Looked like the official bailed out Waverly Austin.
Damyean Dotson and Joseph Young each had eight points to lead Oregon.
Kiss Cam here at Moda Center saw two dudes get shut down cold and another couple go full tongue.
Egwu, Ekey and Bertrand all spent time on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Nnanna’s two fouls were bad fouls. Both were illegal screens, both pretty easy calls.
Illinois 14, No. 15 Oregon 11 — 11:31 first half
Nnanna Egwu pulled in an offensive rebound on the opening possession of the game. He probably could have put it back up, but instead kicked it back to the perimeter. You’d like to see him be more aggressive and try to score it himself.
Jamall Walker had the scout tonight. He’s been animated on the bench. The official had to push him back a bit.
It’s amazing how many three-pointers guys take from NBA range when the line is on the floor. All of Abrams’ threes at Atlanta were from the pro line.
The public addresser says “Dunk Shot!” when a guy finishes a slam dunk. Joseph Bertrand has a dunk shot early.
I wasn’t far off on the color thing. Apparently it’s “lightning yellow” and “thunder green.” They’ve got the colors of thunder storms covered.
Rayvonte Rice has got to the bucket and converted on a couple of grown-man moves.
He then found Maverick Morgan rolling to the bucket for a nice shot jumper with the left hand.
The pace has been pretty fast, not sure if Illinois is going to want to keep this up. This probably benefits Oregon a bit more than the Illini.
Jaylon Tate went up and snatched down an impressive rebound among the trees.
I just noticed Ryan Baker from CBS 2 in Chicago is here. He’s wearing orange pants.
John Groce’s family is here behind the bench. His two boys have a blast during games. It’s a wonder they have voices afterward.
Illinois (9-1) vs. Oregon (8-0) — TIPOFF
Illinois will wear the road blues tonight. Oregon is wearing electric yellow. I’m sure there’s a fancier name for that color, but we’ll go with electric yellow. Nike treats these guys well.
Speaking of Nike, some of the Illinois travel party made the trip to the Nike headquarters today. Ed Bond bought a pair of shoes. He said the line to get in was about an hour long.
There’s a lot of orange in here. But there were decidedly more cheers for Oregon when the Ducks took the floor about 25 minutes before the tip.
But, about five minutes before the game, the Illini took the court to a pretty loud ovation for a team more than 2,000 miles away from campus. There was an I-L-L, I-N-I cheer going through the arena.
Much more green an electric yellow here.
Looks like there will be close to 10,000 here, too. Should be a good environment.
I’ve run into a few Illinois fans here in the Rose City since I landed last night at about 12 a.m. PST. There were two guys riding the same train from the airport to downtown with me who are Illinois fans from Southern California. I saw two guys in the elevator at my hotel this morning, too, here for the game.
In terms of media here covering the Illini, it’s me, Robert Rosenthal from Illini Board, Steve Greenberg from the Chicago Sun-Times and Rob McColley. Greenberg got here 22 seconds before tip. He had travel issues. He's tired.
Illinois is going with the regular starters tonight: Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.
A young woman named Blake Slover sang the National Anthem. She was outstanding.
Illinois (9-1) vs. No. 15 Oregon (8-0) — 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
I mentioned young guys earlier, one pup coming off a career game is freshman Malcolm Hill, who scored 10 points in Tuesday’s win against Dartmouth. Hill’s come along at an interesting rate. He came into college as a prolific scorer, but it’s his defense that has earned him minutes much of the season. Even more impressive is he’s been playing a lot at the 4, banging around down low with power forwards even though he’s naturally a guard.
“That’s one thing I really wanted to focus myself on because I wasn’t really too strong on the defensive end in high school,” Hill said. “I wanted to prepare myself to do better in college and I think I have so far, especially since I’m playing a new position and I had to learn that new position and had to learn that.”
With it being such a long day, there was plenty of time between this morning’s shootaround and tipoff for tonight’s game. It wasn’t all spent lounging around, though. The Illini had an hour of study tables back at the team hotel. Team academic counselor Jseeica Goerke is on the trip with the team and is preparing the guys for final exams this week.
Goerke said some guys have already received grades they were anticipating and it’s all been positive so far.
“I don’t have any kids, but seeing them get so excited about something they’ve set out to accomplish, it makes you feel like a parent in that moment,” Goerke said.
I’ll have more from Goerke in tomorrow’s coverage.
I spoke to a Moda Center employee who didn’t want to be named about Meyers Leonard earlier. He’s a fan of the former Illini big man, says Meyers needs to play more so that he can develop. He thinks Big Meyers is being misused and that he’s actually more of a power forward than a center. He also says the Robinson native is as fine a young man as there is in the NBA. You already knew that part.
Busy day in college hoops. Top-ranked Arizona came back and won at Michigan. The Wolverines now have four losses against a brutal schedule.
North Carolina beat Kentucky in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have now beaten the three teams ranked in the preseason Top 3 (Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville). They’ve also lost to Belmont and UAB. Figure that out, if you can.
Notre Dame topped Indiana (Who were you Illinois fans rooting for in that one?) And it looks like Butler was handling Purdue. Rough day for the Big Ten. Not sure if Illinois can help that or not.
Spoke to former UCLA forward Sean Farnham, who’s calling the game for ESPN2. He told me the Big Ten is clearly the best league in the country, followed by the Pac-12.
First song played here tonight: “Take Back the Night.” I like this place.
Illinois (9-1) vs. No. 15 Oregon (8-0) — 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Good evening from the snow-free Pacific Northwest where I walked around Downtown Portland earlier today without a coat.
Sorry to rub it in to all you folks back in the Midwest, who are dealing with the snowstorm that hit last night. I feel for you, I really do. It’s been about 45 and foggy all day here, just about what you would expect.
It’s nice and toasty and clear here inside Moda Center (Rose Garden to all you traditionalists). Moda, for those of you wondering, is an Oregon-based health insurance provider. It bought the naming rights to the arena in August and for at least the next 10 years, this place will be known as Moda Center.
The capacity for Trailblazers games is 19,980. The upper sections, however, are blocked off tonight. The capacity in the remainder of the building is 10,807.
This, no doubt, will be the toughest test to this point for Illinois. Oregon can score the heck out of it, averaging 91 points per game, among the top five in the country in that category. The Illinois defense is one of the best in the country, holding opponents to 59.3 points per game. Something’s got to give.
“Defensively, we’ve got to bring our A game, they can score the ball,” Jon Ekey said. “They’re fast, they can score the ball, they’ve got a lot of talent so it’ll be a good challenge for us to see what we’ve learned so far, what Coach has put together and how much we can go out there and execute.”
A few Illini have some experience with this type of trip across time zones to this part of the country against a great team. Illinois traveled to Gonzaga last December and knocked off the 10th-ranked Bulldogs behind Brandon Paul’s 35 points.
Brandon Paul isn’t walking through that tunnel tonight, though.
“Obviously whatever they did last year worked, we’re hoping to do the same thing this year. I’m excited,” Ekey said.
This is the first chance many of the Illini have played against an opponent ranked in the Top 25. It’s a different animal. Keep an eye on how the young guys handle themselves tonight against the Ducks.
Meyers Leonard, A Trailblazers first-round pick in 2012, won’t be here tonight. He and the Blazers are in Philadelphia playing against the Sixers. Too bad the big man couldn’t be here to watch his alma mater, along with a few former ‘mates.
I’m going to explore. I’ll be back.