If I’m going to stay up until 11PM to watch a basketball game, last night’s performance is what I want to see! Illinois had control all night long and gave the USC Trojans a pounding with a final score of 94-64.
USC was actually a 2.5-point favorite going into this game, but Illinois proved early on that last night would not be a repeat of the game against Hawaii.
I can’t remember the last time Illinois hit 90 points, and this is the most points for Illinois since they had 96 vs. SIU Edwardsville in 2009. The halftime score of 57-26 was a beautiful site to see, especially considering there were many games in the Bruce Weber Era that didn’t crack the 50-point mark for the final score.
The difference? Head Coach John Groce let’s the guys just PLAY. Last night’s game was extremely fast paced, and the Trojans just could not keep up. I can only think of maybe one time the shot clock started to wind down for Illinois (which resulted in a missed shot before an Egwu rebound), while the clock ticked for the Trojans a few times throughout.
The shots went in and the defense did it’s job. Now, it’s important to note that the first half was much more glorious than the second, but Illinois held strong and never let the lead dwindle below double digits.
Brandon Paul was 6-9 from 3-point land, with a game-high 26 points. He had 4 turnovers (way too many), but also had 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Tracy Abrams had a respectable 11 points, and he was the guy to watch last night. I’m ever thankful that Abrams is just a sophomore, with his 6 rebounds and a whopping 8 assists, BUT, there were also 8 turnovers. On the whole the Illini had 20 TOs (compared to just 16 for USC). Luckily, Illinois was able to convert the TOs to points, while USC didn’t have as much luck.
The Illini shot 45% for 3′s last night, and 52.2% for 2s. They made up for the free throw problems against Hawaii by making 15-17. In the first half, they shot 68% for FGs, and 57% for 3′s, which is simply insane. Though now that I know what they’re capable of, I want to see it every night.
I am still going to be very cautious with my excitement moving forward, because these guys have broken my heart many many times. But, I’m in love with this start. Thanks to Texas, Chaminade will be the next opponent, which means Illinois has a pretty good chance of getting into the Championship game, where they will face either Butler or UNC.
The only issue tonight will be fatigue. They’re clearly well rested after Friday’s late-night game, but last night’s game also went late. Paul, D.J. Richardson and Abrams played for most of the game, while the other starters Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu put in a lot of time as well. Sam McLaurin and Joseph Bertrand helped, but that’s about as deep as we got. Unfortunately, that could be a problem moving forward. I do think perhaps maybe Groce could’ve taken out some of the starters for a wee bit of a rest when Illinois was up 20 points with 6 minutes to go, but so far he’s proven he knows what he is doing.
The undefeated Illini will square off against Chaminade (which for the record is a Division II team) at 9:30 pm tonight (finally an earlier game). The game will air on ESPN2.