Some other impressive notes thanks to last night’s 78-61 win over the Butler Bulldogs:
- Coach John Groce is the first Illini coach since 1947 to start the season 6-0.
- The Illini are currently No. 1 in the nation with 3 points made, averaging 11.3 3-pionters per game.
- The Illini are 25 on the list with points made per game with 83.
- Not one time did the Illini trail in any of the three Maui Invite games.
It’s fair to say that Butler certainly gave the Illini a run for their money, even if Illinois led the entire game. It seemed like Rotnei Clark couldn’t miss and he finished with a game-high 27 points. Luckily, Clark – a transfer from Arkansas – was the only player on Butler who really got going. No one else on the Bulldogs even cracked into double digits.
Credit the lack of Butler scoring to the Illini defense all the way. This season is off to a great start because they’re firing on offense AND defense.
So let’s talk about offense. For the sixth game in a row, the Illini have made at least 10 3′s (they had 10 last night). Brandon Paul, the tournament MVP, had 20 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. But my favorite BP3 stat from last night is the turnovers: 0.
Five different guys (Tyler Griffey, D.J. Richardson, Paul, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand) made a 3 last night, and Griffey was 4-5. They were fine with regular old field goals as well, averaging nearly 50%. And the free throws that were a problem at Hawaii are a thing of the past, since they shot 95%, missing just one out of 21. Four guys were in double digits: Paul, Griffey, Richardson and Abrams.
Paul may have been the MVP, but Griffey is slowly starting to prove how valuable he can be. In addition to his 14 points, he had 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Sam McLaurin also continues to quietly do his job, with 4 points, 2 blocks, 1 assist and 3 rebounds. Those numbers don’t seem extremely high, but he is doing a lot and is clearly skilled at being in the right place at the right time.
Richardson is always reliable, and he tacked on 9 rebounds to his 14 points, putting him just shy of a double double. Abrams also contributed 17 points, and kept his turnovers down to 3. Overall, the Illini had just 8 turnovers for the night, which is way under the 12 Coach Groce commented he wanted to hover around this year.
The trip to Hawaii started off rough for Illinois with a tough game at Hawaii, where they trailed the whole game and came back with a Richardson buzzer-beating 3. After that, they never let things get out of hand again.
Going into the Maui Invitational, I didn’t really think Illinois had a chance of bringing home the W. We had no idea what to expect, and Groce is quickly winning some fans throughout Illini Nation.
Last year’s team would not have won this tournament. In fact, they’d probably be heading back to Champaign with 2 or 3 losses after this stretch. But this team is now undefeated. They will certainly get a few votes from the critics, and may possibly even be ranked come Monday. Although I’m willing to bet plenty of money that UNC – who lost to Butler – will be ranked way ahead of us.
But first, they’ll have to get through Gardner-Webb on Sunday at 3pm, which I am guessing will be a welcome relief after this difficult trip. While I wish that we had gotten a chance to see Marquette and UNC during the tournament, I am still pleased that they made it through some solid teams.
Congrats to the Illini on being Champs for the weekend! Now it’s time to go home, eat some turkey, and then get back to work. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!