LIVE! DePaul

LIVE! DePaul

CHAMPAIGN — Mark Smith scored a career high 21 points, Kipper Nichols nearly got his with 16 points and Illinois fended off DePaul for an 82-73 victory Friday night in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.

Be sure to check out IlliniHQ.com and Saturday's News-Gazette for more from the game.

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Illinois 39, DePaul 32 — Halftime

Mark Smith pulling the ball out for what was almost a 30-foot three-pointer was not the play/shot Illinois was looking for to end the first half. Not a great look. But Smith's 14 first half points still leads the team.

Kipper Nichols has eight points, Trent Frazier six more and that's basically the Illinois offense save for Leron Black's four points that he scored very early.

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Illinois 22, DePaul 18 — 7:57 left in 1st

Best Illini so far tonight? Hands down, it's freshman guard Mark Smith. He might have missed both of the three-pointers he attempted, but he's been relentless attacking the rim. And when he gets there, he has the strength and body control to finish at basically any angle. 

Smith leads all scorers with 10 points and has a pair of rebounds. Leron Black is Illinois' next highest scorer with four points — that he had when he made his first two shots of the game. 

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Illinois 13, DePaul 13 — 11:32 left in 1st

A few items of note so far ... 

— Illinois is still struggling from three-point range. The Illini are 0 of 5 from deep so far. The first two — by Michael Finke and Mark Smith — only caught backboard. 

— Double technicals were called on Illinois' Kipper Nichols and DePaul's Eli Cain after a little extracurricular activity following Da'Monte Williams take a charge. Blue Demons coach Dave Leitao ended up on the court, three-quarters of the way down from his end, but that was apparently OK.

— Leron Black made his first two shots, and he leads Illinois with four points.

— Justin Roberts has five points off the bench to lead DePaul.

— Te'Jon Lucas is struggling. He already has two fouls, and the second was of the offensive variety. That's been an issue of him so far this season.

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Illinois vs. DePaul — 7:30 p.m., BTN

One last update before tipoff here at State Farm Center ...

— Illinois is going with the same starters tonight as the rest of the season: Te'Jon Lucas, Mark Smith, Mark Alstork, Leron Black and Michael Finke.

— DePaul's starters are Devin Gage, Eli Cain, Max Strus, Tre'Darius McCallum and Marin Maric. 

— Tonight's officials are a new bunch at least as it pertains to games here at SFC: Brian O'Connell, Earl Walton and Mike Eades. Only Eades has been a regular for Illinois games the past couple seasons.

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Illinois vs. DePaul — 7:30 p.m., BTN

Brad Underwood can be a wealth of information. About his team. About how he wants them to run his system. About the areas they haven't mastered quite yet.

Here's what the first-year Illinois coach had to say about the Illinois offense ...


"The other thing we’re spending a lot of time on is trying to understand the rhythm with which you have to play offensively," he said. "It’s not just every time you catch the ball you think you can go make a play. It’s about getting the ball reversed, allowing the defense to make mistakes, looking for better opportunities. Turning down a good to get to a great.

"Offensive understanding takes a little time. It takes some chemistry. Yeah, we want to score quick and early, but when that’s not there we have to play offense. We’ve got to have a better understanding of that."

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Illinois vs. DePaul — 7:30 p.m., BTN

Spent a couple minutes chatting with Deon Thomas about tonight's game. The one thing he said he'll be watching is how Illinois' quickness matches up against DePaul's size.

The Blue Demons not only have legitimate size down low with Marin Maric (their 6-foot-11 center), but also some serious size on the wing. That includes a pair of 6-6 guards in Max Strus and Eli Cain and 6-7 scoring leader Tre'Darius McCallum.

"They’re a really good rebounding team — offensive rebounding team especially," Illinois redshirt junior forward Michael Finke said. "It will be a really good challenge for us to go out there and grab some boards, and they have some shooters as well. It will be a good matchup."

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Illinois vs. DePaul — 7:30 p.m., BTN

Illinois not following Sunday's game plan against Tennessee Martin as close as Brad Underwood wanted was one thing the Illini coach expressed some disappointment in after the three-point victory against the Skyhawks.

The Illini have talked about that. A lot.

"That’s part of our process," Underwood said. "A scouting report is like a cheat sheet, and it has the answers on it. We provide them with that. We have provide them with information and intel to help them do their job better. You liken it to a test. If you have the answers to a test, you want to memorize them.

"We have to get our young guys to understand that and see how important that is. It’s not just going out and playing the game. It’s giving yourself every advantage you can to do your job better, which in term helps our team better."

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Illinois vs. DePaul — 7:30 p.m., BTN

A few observations to get us going tonight ...

— Illinois is wearing the Flying Illini era throwbacks for the first time this season. It's a fan favorite for sure. Mine, too. DePaul is in its road blacks with red and blue accents.

The best would have been if both teams would have worn the same thing they did in 1957 when they last played. The shorts might have been quite a bit shorter than is the style now, but it would have been a fun, historical look for a game that's been 60 years in the making pretty much.

— A slew of Illini were knocking down three-pointers during the first more informal shootaround of warmups. Almost everybody. From Te'Jon Lucas and Trent Frazier to Michael Finke and Matic Vesel. Illniois is 10 of 42 (23.8 percent) from three-point range through two games this season. 

— A pair of former Illini are again serving on the respective broadcast crews tonight. Deon Thomas is back for his third game in a row on the radio broadcast on the Fighting Illinois Sports Network (Doug Altenberger is on the schedule more later in the season). Meanwhile, Stephen Bardo is the analyst for BTN.

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Another Friday night Illinois basketball means another LIVE! Report from courtside at State Farm Center. That's where beat writer Scott Richey (as always, that's me) is posted up for tonight's Gavitt Tipoff Games showdown between Illinois (2-0) and DePaul (1-1).

This is one of the better nonconference games on the schedule for the Illini if only for its historical nature. Illnois and DePaul haven't played since 1957. Six decades. The last time they went at it, the Illini were playing in Huff Gym.

Of course, DePaul was also calling Chicago Stadium home at the time. Both teams now have shiny new arenas, with State Farm Center getting a $169 million renovation and Wintrust Arena opening this season (at a cost of $173 million).

As far as the actual basketball matchup? Well, that's to be determined. Illinois looked great against Southern before nearly giving away a late double-digit lead to Tennessee Martin. DePaul hung with a ranked Notre Dame team for a half before losing then bounced back to rout Delaware State.

The Illini are in the midst of installing all of first-year coach Brad Underwood's systems, while the Blue Demons are in rebuild mode in Dave Leitao's second run with the team. 

The LIVE! Report will take you through it all tonight with more pregame updates coming and posts throughout the game. More can be found by — shameless self promotion — following me on Twitter. Now's also the time to get caught up on everything Illini basketball from the past few days.

Aaron Jordan making most of more opportunity so far

Illini vs. Blue Demons: Lineups, storylines and a prediction

Pre-practice video interviews with Aaron Jordan and Michael Finke

More video with Brad Underwood

Radio stream of games now readily available and free

These guys have next: A look at the 2018 Big Ten class so far

What's next for the Illini in recruiting?

Illinois targeting size, athleticism with latest offers