Two undefeated teams went into last night’s Illinois game vs. Eastern Kentucky, and of course only one came out. Illinois emerged triumphant, and can now continue to boast an undefeated, 12-0 record for the season.
While last night’s 66-53 win wasn’t necessarily easy, Illinois never seemed too close to danger. The Colonels managed to force an embarrassing 20 turnovers and our 3′s didn’t fall, but Illinois still managed to win by double digits. Part of the success came from the fact that I don’t believe that E. Kentucky has played a team that has a solid defensive game.
Another team that is known for their 3′s, the Colonel’s were just 6-22 for the night (the Illini were 6-23). Illinois had a nice little height advantage, which resulted in outrebounding E. Kentucky 39-20.
Illinois took the lead first with a 3 from D.J. Richardson, and held on to that lead the whole game. The largest lead was 14 points with about 5 minutes left in the game, but the Colonels continually found a way to crawl back into the game. Thankfully, at the end Illinois managed to pull away and shoot a bunch of unnecessary free throws. Down by 5 with about 8 minutes to go, Illinois managed to hold off E. Kentucky and send them home with their first loss.
Brandon Paul did his part with a team-high 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks. He also had 5 turnovers, but Tracy Abrams also had 5 and Richardson had 4. No one seemed to be safe from the turnover bug. Abrams contributed 13 points and Joseph Bertrand was also in double digits with 11. Bertrand also had 7 rebounds to go with his points.
On E. Kentucky, some fellow named Corey Walden had the game of his life with a career-high 21 points. No one should score their career-high in our house unless they’re wearing orange and blue. Only 1 other guy had 11 points, and sadly ESPN doesn’t feel like telling me his first name so we’ll just call him Cosey.
The game was ugly with turnovers, but a 13-point win is a 13-point win. And, it came against an undefeated team who really had nothing to lose. Despite the flaws, I’m a happy camper. Let’s talk for one second about what’s going on with Tyler Griffey. Just like every other season, he started off really strong and I thought maybe Coach Groce was able to flip the same switch in him that he seems to have switched in Paul. However, as the season progresses he is returning to his old ways. Griffey looked lost half the time, and though he finally made a 3 last night, on the whole his shots weren’t falling. He had just 5 points, 3 assists and 3 turnovers. He also had 5 rebounds, but let’s be honest half of those just sort of fell into his hands. If we’re going to continue to do well, we need Griffey to snap out of whatever is going on.
As for rankings, I’d be surprised if we went any higher, because wins this week over Norfolk State and E. Kentucky were expected. However, having a record of 12-0 should raise some eyebrows. Indiana isn’t going to fall out of the top 10, but No. 5 Florida might. Everybody else won their games this week, so I would guess maybe we’ll be at either 9/10 when the rankings come out this afternoon.
The Illini will get a rest this week to take finals and recharge, and on Saturday they will head to St. Louis to face No. 12 Missouri. No one on this Illini team has beaten the Tigers, and I’m guessing all of them are hungry to finally get that W.
That game will be on Saturday, Dec. 22 at 5pm.