The many faces of Rayvonte Rice

The many faces of Rayvonte Rice

CHAMPAIGN — There was a part of Rayvonte Rice that thought he was going to get in trouble after he and the Illini upended Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Trouble for the guy who had just scored 14 points to help end a four-game skid to the Tigers?

You see, after the buzzer sounded on Illinois’ 65-64 win against No. 23 Missouri, Rice took the front end of his blue No. 24 jersey and pulled it over his head, flexing and yelling in excitement after the victory in front of more than 22,000 fans.

“I was just showing emotion, but I thought Coach was going to say something to me for taking my jersey off like that,” Rice said.

Not quite. Illinois coach John Groce said after that game if his body was as sculpted as the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rice’s, he’d have taken his shirt off, too.

It was just one of the many faces of Rice, cool customer off the court, fireball of emotion on it. When the Illini take the State Farm Center floor for today’s Big Ten tilt with Penn State (1:15 p.m., BTN) chances are you’ll see varying degrees of emotion the Champaign native has displayed through 14 games in an Illinois uniform.

“Ray’s just a warrior,” Groce said.

Rice has helped the Illini from a production standpoint on the court this season, leading the Big Ten in scoring at 19 points per game. But his outbursts, which range from his wide smile to banging his head with three fingers after hitting a three-pointer (a salute to his mom Rhonda) to a heated give-and-take with Indiana coach Tom Crean, have provided a lift for his Illinois teammates.

“He’s always really hyped up, animated. That’s just how he plays, and it really helps the team,” teammate Joseph Bertrand said.

“That’s my boy, so I know the type of stuff he might do,” Tracy Abrams said. “When the emotions are flowing, you never know what a person might do or how a person might react. He continues to shock me with his emotions out there.”

Rice, who described himself as laid-back off the court, said he’s not always aware of the faces he makes or the outbursts he delivers between the lines.

“Once you get on the court, it’s no friends. You’ve got your guys you go to war with and that’s it,” he said.

Film sessions turn into laugh sessions for Illinois players and coaches when a Rice moment pops up. Especially that topless moment in St. Louis. Abrams has difficulty talking about it without bursting into laughter himself.

“We definitely gave him a hard time about that one,” Abrams said after gathering himself. “It’s all fun and games. You want to have fun and that aspect just makes the game a little more emotional and adds toughness to it.”