I love you, Illini basketball, and I'm so glad you've come back to me. The first half of this game was probably the most I've enjoyed 20 minutes of Illini basketball since the 2005 season. It was non-stop sweet, as the Illini pretty much shot the lights out of the gym and buried USC early.
The second half was not nearly as fun, as the Illini came out like team that realized it was going to win the game and played like it. People were more interested in filling their box scores than they were in playing smart offense, and it allowed the Trojans to battle back into the game. Fortunately Brandon Paul would hit a few more big shots to put an end to any USC run and we'd get the lead back to 30 for the final horn.
Still, this was a 30-point win that left a lot to be desired and plenty of things for John Groce to harp on. Like those 20 turnovers.
You can afford 20 turnovers when you shoot 53% from the floor and 45% from behind the arc -- those numbers were at 70% and 60% in the first half, by the way. Brandon Paul led the way with 26 points on 15 shots. He was 6-for-9 from three, but he also had 4 turnovers of his own. Tracey Abram's line looked good too, with 11 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds, but then you see the 8 turnovers and it puts a severe damper on things.
Still, it's a win that's hard to be upset about. Now the Illini move on to the second round to face Chaminade on Tuesday night, and the game will actually finish before midnight barring multiple overtimes!
-- One improvement I was happy to see was at the free throw line. We struggled at the charity stripe in our first three games, but shot 14-of-16 on Monday night. Considering that we don't have much of an inside presence on offense we need all the easy points we can get.
-- Speaking of that inside presence, it still doesn't exist. 59 of our 94 points (63%) came from Paul, Abrams, D.J. Richardson and Joseph Bertrand. Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin combined for 15 points. Not a terrible night, but certainly nothing there to make you think it's not going to be a problem at some point.
-- Myke Henry had a terrible night. Erase this one from your memory and move on, Myke.