Nunn sparkles in return

Nunn sparkles in return

NICEVILLE, Fla. — When he checked into the game with 16:54 remaining in the first half, Kendrick Nunn did so to a rousing ovation from the Illinois fans inside The Arena on the campus of Northwest Florida State College.

The 1,000 or so Illini fans inside the building cheered simply at the sight of Nunn, who had missed the first five games of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb. Once on the court, he gave them even more to cheer about.

In his first action of the season, Nunn scored a game-high 18 points off the bench Friday as Illinois advanced to the championship game of the Emerald Coast Classic with a 72-58 win against Alabama-Birmingham.

“It felt good,” Nunn said of returning. “I was just trying to get my conditioning back. I was winded a little bit in the first half, but then it felt good.”

Nunn, who played 31 minutes, wasn’t the only Illini returning to the court against the Blazers. Chicago Simeon classmate Jaylon Tate returned after leaving the season opener with an open dislocation to his pinky, and Leron Black (12 points, six rebounds, two steals) also came back after missing the previous game against Chicago State to rest his surgically repaired knee.

Since a rash of injuries during the offseason depleted the roster, Illinois (3-3) has been waiting to have its full complement of players, and Friday provided a glimpse of what this team could be if healthy and playing well.

“Nunn and Black are obviously very, very tough guys,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “When you add those two at the same time, it adds an element to your team, a swagger, a toughness, a little bit extra in the grit department that I think all good teams have.”

In Saturday’s championship game (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network), the Illini will get No. 4 Iowa State, a 99-77 winner against Virginia Tech in Friday’s earlier game.

“I think that’s real exciting to play a team like that,” Illinois forward Maverick Morgan said of Iowa State. “We’re going to come in and do the same thing we always do.”

What happened
Kendrick Nunn returned to score 18 points as the Illini advanced to the championship game of a Thanksgiving tournament for the second consecutive season.

What it means
The Illini are pretty good away from Springfield, where they allowed an average of 81.75 points per game. Elsewhere, they’ve allowed 59.0.

What’s next
The Illini face No. 4 Iowa State in the championship game Saturday night, looking for a win against a Top 5 team for the first time since beating No. 1 Indiana in 2013.

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Bwp 5P wrote on November 28, 2015 at 9:11 am

?????

Where are all the negative Nancys, complaining that Groce sucks, this team sucks, we have No talent?

If you "wasted" your time hoping to see them get beat.........surely you noticed a group of athletes that ran UAB out of the Gym! No walking the ball up the court with these guys!!

TyroneHogglegg wrote on November 28, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Hahaha...wow...really??? You come on here arfter we beat UAB...and are now 3-3...Not being negative, but relax....So now, we should compete with Iowa State today, right?....Lets see....

robspat wrote on November 28, 2015 at 4:11 pm

No kidding!  You get on here after we beat UAB?  Lol.  Might want to hold off a bit before you make those post.