COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some things just never change.
Constant dribble drives and strong finishes at the rim by Andres Feliz paired with smothering defense at the other end.
Nnanna Egwu swatting away misguided attempts to challenge him on the block.
Smooth fadeaway jumpers from Malcolm Hill.
Illinois fans got used to seeing it during that trio’s respective Illini careers. It was all on display again Saturday night on national TV in the opening round of The Basketball Tournament, with Feliz, Egwu and Hill — among others — playing for House of ‘Paign.
Feliz wound up with an Illini-high 20 points, former South Dakota State All-American Mike Daum added 21 points and 13 rebounds and House of ‘Paign crushed War Tampa 76-53. The Illinois alumni team, with some help from its trio of TBT “grad transfers,” advances to play defending champion Carmen’s Crew at 3 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
“We look like a real team that’s been practicing for like six months, and we’ve been here for six days,” Feliz said after the win. “I’m more than happy to be a part of this team.”
Most of the House of ‘Paign roster was making its TBT debut. The team itself is new to the tournament. No first game jitters for this group, which arrived in Columbus on Monday and had just .
“I knew like two of the guys legit before I came here to Columbus,” Daum said. “Seeing that first practice where I got to meet everybody for the first time you could just tell we had a great group of guys willing to buy in to whatever it takes to win. There’s no egos on our team. There’s not one person who’s mad at anybody else for taking a shot. We’re all super encouraging of each other, and I think that’s something special and something you need to win in this tournament.”
House of ‘Paign asserted itself early, with Feliz finding Daum for a pick-and-pop three-pointer to start the game. Malcolm Hill finished the first quarter with a buzzer-beating breakaway slam to capitalize off a War Tampa turnover. The second quarter was a repeat. Daum hit a three at the start, and Michael Finke put the exclamation point on the first half with a power dunk at the buzzer.
“We knew coming in that we have enough offensive firepower,” said Hill, who made it three House of ‘Paign players in double figures with 15 points. “We knew to start the game and get us going it was defense and toughness. We have plenty of offensive weapons. That’s not what we’re worried about.”
House of ‘Paign’s 11-point halftime lead simply grew in the final two quarters. The Elam Ending hit in the final 4 minutes of the fourth quarter with House of ‘Paign boasting a 68-49 advantage in the race to 76 points. Feliz, who also had seven rebounds, hit the game-winning free throw.
Morgan Park and DePaul grad Billy Garrett Jr. chipped in nine points for House of ‘Paign in the winning, going 7 of 10 from the free throw line. Former Central Connecticut State standout Kyle Vinales chipped in five points and a team-high four assists. Finke, Egwu and Leron Black had two points apiece, with Egwu also pulling down seven rebounds.
“I think they just fit our team well,” Hill said about Garrett and Vinales. “I think a key attribute for both of them and everybody else is I think we’re a really smart team. We’re really, really smart — a high basketball IQ. They bring a lot of energy. The stats probably didn’t show it, but they were really with the team and encouraging everybody and keeping everybody up.
“Their defense was really good, too. We have a team where you can’t look at the stat sheet to see if people played well. You actually have to watch and pay attention. I think when you watched both of them (Saturday) they were really getting it done.”