Mark it down: Smith collars Blue Demons with his poise

Mark it down: Smith collars Blue Demons with his poise

CHAMPAIGN — Mark Smith scored more points at the free-throw line than he did anywhere else on the court in the first half of Friday night's Gavitt Tipoff Games showdown with DePaul.

The freshman guard is perfect there on the season. His eight made free throws in the first 20 minutes were the product of how he got the rest of his points — persistent drives to the basket.

Some of them he finished right at the rim with a preternatural ability to get his shot no matter the angle or how hard its contested.

Smith ultimately gave Illinois a first-half lead it never relinquished. Making sure it stayed was Kipper Nichols, who took on the scoring role with Smith in foul trouble in the second half. The duo helped Illinois fend off the Blue Demons for a 82-73 victory to remain unbeaten on the year.

"I'm starting to like the balance we're having and the versatility we're showing," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "Mark was in a great place (Friday) in terms of his mental preparation, his aggressiveness.

"You're sure not ever going to hear me tell him to back off. We need that type of play. It was Kipper in the second half going downhill off that two-man game. That was as good as we've had."

Smith finished with a game-high 21 points, including four more free throws (on four attempts to stay perfect) in the second half. Nichols added 16 points — nearly reaching his career high.

"(Smith's) such a big-bodied guy able to drive the ball in there," said Illinois redshirt junior forward Michael Finke. "He's going to be huge for us going down the road. He's definitely got to keep that up."

DePaul coach Dave Leitao called Smith "probably the most poised of all the players on the floor" both physically and mentally. That was for either team.

"He just played the game — got lost in the game — and made plays," Leitao said. "He's got a big, strong body — broad shoulders — and can absorb contact."

 

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Moonpie wrote on November 18, 2017 at 8:11 am

Good.

But who have they beaten? Nobody yet.

Bwp 5P wrote on November 18, 2017 at 9:11 am

Have you BEEN to a Game yet? Have you WATCHED them play? This is a totally different team from the past few years. No more walk the ball up the court. These kids are horses! Sure, they'll lose some games, but they are way more enjoyable to watch.......and if they stay healthy, and continue to improve, they are going to be a very good team! Might not be early this year............but after a year in this program. Explosive will be frequently used to decribe their play!