LIVE! Flyin' Illini reunion
Illinois 75, Penn State 55 — FINAL
CHAMPAIGN — With 8:38 remaining in Illinois’ win against the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Penn State guard D.J. Newbill delivered a punch to the back of the head of Illinois freshman Kendrick Nunn. The two had to be separated after squaring off with one another. Newbill was assessed a technical foul and subsequently ejected.
From that point forward, Illinois went on a big run to close the game cruising to a 2-0 Big Ten mark.
Rayvonte Rice led Illinois with 15 points and seven rebounds as the Illini moved to 9-0 at home. Tracy Abrams (six rebounds) added 12 points while Jon Ekey (eight rebounds) and Joseph Bertrand (seven rebounds) each scored 11.
Penn State was led by John Johnson’s 18 points. Tim Frazier had 10.
Illinois 44, Penn State 33 — 11:59 second half
Malcolm Hill got tangled up with Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and things got a bit heated afterward with the Illinois freshman getting into the face of the Penn State junior. Newbill was called for a personal foul on the play.
Malcolm is really playing his behind off today.
“Play like you practiced and you’ll be fine. Glass, glass, glass,” Groce said to Hill as he was checking in for the first time in the second half.
Illinois opened the second half with a three-point barrage. Abrams hit, then Ekey, then Abrams.
“EARL! He jumped on top of him. It’s like a body slam!” — Groce to official Earl Watson. Watson’s had a rough day.
“You did good, Ray, you did good,” Paris Parham told Rayvonte Rice after a defensive possession.
Spent a few minutes with Andy Kaufmann at halftime. We’ll share that conversation with you later this week.
Illinois 28, Penn State 26 — HALFTIME
It hasn’t been particularly pretty here. Both coaching staffs have had serious issues with the officiating today.
Mike Kitts not giving anyone any foul calls. “You jumped into him, you can’t just jump into guys,” he’s telling the players.
The packed house gave the Illini a standing ovation entering the under-4 timeout after a series of great hustle plays leading up to the break in action.
Groce got mad at Ekey for passing up a three-pointer just after he had missed one.
“What is Jon doing?” Groce asked his bench.
He had missed eight in a row coming in. He missed his first two today before getting one to drop.
After a no-look pass by Rice, Groce said: “Great pass by Ray Ray right there.”
Malcolm Hill has brought some good energy and provided good minutes off the bench.
After Rice nailed a long, long three-pointer to beat the buzzer, a fan during some free throws yelled at him “Nice shot, Rice.” Rayvonte smiled and waved at him.
Penn State spent a lot of time playing zone defense in the half. Probably because Illinois went 2 for 17 from three last game.
Dustin Ford was telling Maverick Morgan he’s got to want the ball.
Penn State shot 8 for 28 (28.6 percent) from the floor and 2 for 9 (22.2) from three-point range.
Tim Frazier leads with eight points and John Johnson has six.
Illinois shot 8 for 27 (29.6 percent) from the floor and 4 for 13 (30.8) from long range.
Rice leads with 10 points and Ekey has six.
Illinois won the rebounding battle 23-19.
Flyin’ Illini time.
Illinois 11, Penn State 8 — 10:50 first half
Penn State went about seven minutes before it made a field goal. That means Illinois went about 18 minutes of continuous action allowing just one field goal. The one it allowed was a desperation three-pointer by Yogi Ferrell in the closing seconds of Tuesday’s game.
The Illinois fans were getting tired. They stand until the other team scores.
Full house here, but it’s been eerily quiet so far.
“Nan, way to get after it on the boards!” Groce said to Egwu.
“Looks like they’re gonna trap that, Trace,” Groce said after Illinois’ first possession.
“Yeah, I see that,” Abrams responded.
Tim Frazier started out guarding Rice.
Nnanna Egwu was called for a foul. “Foul on 32, got him in a bear hug,” was Mike Kitts’ official explanation to the official scorer.
Penn State’s Brandon Taylor got smoked in the head running through the offense. Kitts told Groce he had to look at it by rule.
“Incidental contact,” he said after the review.
The Illinois bench is calling for their perimeter players to drive the ball when they get it.
Penn State missed its first five shots. All five starters were 0 for 1. They spread the wealth.
Illinois has already used 10 players.
Mikel Leshoure is here with his mom.
Sam McLaurin is here, too.
Fletcher Page showed up literally as the ball was being thrown up.
Rich McBride is here.
So is Juice Williams.
Penn State (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) — TIPOFF (BTN)
Recruiting target Aaron Jordan is here wearing a navy Illinois hoodie. Michael Finke is here, too. Finke’s dad and Jordan’s dad are chatting one another up.
For the 15th game in a row, Illinois will start Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.
John Groce went with the orange blazer again.
The pregame video opens with highlights from the Flyin’ Illini.
Penn State has a big sign on the wall outside of its locker room that says “ATTITUDE”.
Andy Kaufmann is here. I believe it’s the first time he’s been here since his playing days.
Most of the Flyin’ Illini are seated in the bleachers behind the Illinois bench.
Bryce Weiler, who I told you about earlier, is wearing a Louisville national championship ring from last year with his name inscribed on it. He and Rick Pitino are tight. He’s got pieces of the net from Butler’s Final Four run and Louisville’s, too. We’ll have more on him tomorrow.
Penn State (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) — 1:15 p.m. BTN
Sorry for the delay. I ran into Coach Henson in the tunnel along with Mary. Lou is wearing an orange blazer. He looks great and says he feels good, too.
Steve Kelly asked John Groce yesterday if he had a favorite player on the Flyin’ Illini. He said the first thing that comes to mind is Kenny Battle’s dunks.
“Those things were unbelievable, I mean sick,” Groce said. “I remember those. I remember how skilled Nick was. I really remember all of them and that’s unique. I just remember that team vividly just because of how entertaining… They were fun to watch.”
Groce likes his current team, thinks it’s fun to watch, not as fun as that team, but these current Illini play hard.
“Our guys compete, they play hard, they battle, I love watching our guys,” Groce said. “I loved watching that team in ’89, they were fun to watch.”
The reason Groce is so thrilled about the dunks of the Flyin’ Illini is simple.
“I’m jealous of a good dunk because I’ve never dunked in my life. Anybody that can play above the rim like that I vividly remember that.”
The closest he’s ever gotten to a dunk?
“The net. Or a 7-foot hoop at home with Conner.”
A guy who can dunk is Kendrick Nunn. He can play defense, too, and he’s been really good the last couple of weeks for the Illini. Groce was excited to talk about the freshman yesterday. He says Nunn has just grinded.
“He’s been grinding every day, learning from film, learning from his mistakes. He’s so open-minded. Even when he wasn’t playing as well early, I thought his attitude was great and that allowed him to continue to be coachable and improve,” Groce said. “He’s gotten a lot better and we’re going to need him to continue to get better for us to ultimately reach our potential.”
I’ve been watching Jon Ekey shoot all morning/afternoon. He hasn’t missed much. Dustin Ford went 1 for 3 from long range.
Penn State (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) — 1:15 p.m. BTN
Good morning from State Farm Center for the game against the Nittany Lions and today’s celebration of the 1988-89 Flyin’ Illini. Lou Henson’s legendary team will be honored and introduced during a ceremony at halftime of today’s game.
The 1989 team got together for a reception last night where Kenny Battle and Lowell Hamilton each spoke on behalf of the squad. I believe the whole team except for Nick Anderson is in town. I ran into Stephen Bardo, Marcus Liberty, Kenny Battle, P.J. Bowman, Larry Smith and some others briefly last night. All are looking forward to a great time here today.
The members of the current team weren’t born when the Flyin’ Illini took the college basketball world by storm, but they’ve seen clips and heard stories.
“I know those guys got a banner hanging up in State Farm Center, that speaks volumes,” Tracy Abrams said. “They paved the way and it’s an honor to give those guys that respect and it’s an honor to be here playing in the uniform they played in.”
Kent Brown informed me the young man who will be seated next to me today is Bryce Weiler. Bryce is a senior at Evansville and a big-time college basketball fan. He’s blind, but has developed relationships with some high-profile college basketball coaches, including Rick Pitino. He’s also got a friendship with Penn State coach Pat Chambers. He listens to Illinois and Indiana games on the radio and with Chambers and the Nittany Lions in town today, he wanted to be here. Look him up, there’s some pretty neat stuff out there about him.
I was one of the first people in the building today. I even beat Loren Tate and Steve Kelly here. Those guys were back at the studio doing the Saturday Sports Talk show. They made it over here in time to take the airwaves for our 11:30 a.m. pregame show. Ed Bond had it all set up for them when they arrived. Hard-working crew right there.
We had a debate on the show about the ’89 team vs. the 2005 team. Steve Kelly gave us his starters between the 10 starters from each team. Steve went with Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle, Lowell Hamilton and Deron Williams. Steve favors the ’89 team.
What say you?
“Hells Bells” came on here as Penn State play-by-play announcer Steve Jones entered the arena. “You play the Bells when I walk out? What’s that all about?” he said.
Penn State will wear blue today. The Illini will wear white. Would have been cool if they wore the orange throwbacks from 1989.
Your officials today are Larry Scirotto, Earl Walton and Mike Kitts.