Considering the way the weekend started on Friday I was really hoping to see the Illini play well tonight and get an easy win against Bradley. They did not disappoint.
Now, I know this is a big statement a whopping four games into the season, but that was the best performance we've seen from the Illini this season. It was far from perfect, but the Illini took control of this one early and never even toyed with the idea of giving Bradley a chance.
It was also a coming out for John Ekey. The transfer had shown flashes since joining from Illinois State, but tonight you saw everything about him that's so attractive to the program. Ekey finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, and he also went 5-for-7 from three.
And not only were the treys falling, but he finally got one of his putbacks to go.
Now, we aren't going to see 19 and seven from Ekey every night, but he showed tonight that he can be very valuable to this team this season, especially when we hit Big Ten play. And if he wants to keep hitting 71% of his threes from here on out, that's cool.
- What I enjoyed more than anything tonight was just seeing shots fall. The Illini have not shot well to start the season, but tonight they shot 47.5% from the floor and made 10 of 25 threes. Now, granted, if you take away Ekey they only shot 5-for-18 from three, but that's a crappy attitude to have, man. Plus I can just counter by saying if you don't count Rayvonte Rice and Jaylon Tate -- a combined 0-for-9 from three -- guys not named Ekey shot 5-for-9 from deep! How do you like those apples?
- Speaking of Rayvonte Rice, the outside shot wasn't falling, but he was still dunking on everything in his path. Also, there was one putback dunk that had he finished it......man. He'd have been on Sportscenter again. As it was he'll just have to settle for his 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
- Joe Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu were all pretty quiet for the most part on Sunday night, at least when it came to scoring, but it didn't matter. Everybody else played well, and I do mean everybody.
- Loved this game for Kendrick Nunn. He's really been struggling in the early going, and while he still made mistakes tonight on defense, he also contributed enough to earn minutes. That's been the key. Malcolm Hill has made a lot of mistakes this season too, but he does a lot of little things to earn John Groce's trust and he gets minutes because of it. Tonight Nunn may have earned some trust as he finished with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and only one turnover. I hope this is the kind of confidence-builder for Kendrick that can really get him going, because he can contribute valuable minutes to this team.
- As a whole the Freshman Five finished the night with 22 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. And, of course, my favorite was Jaylon Tate who only had four points but dished out six assists and had three rebounds.
- Nice seeing Mike Shaw on the Bradley bench. I'd totally forgotten he'd transferred to Bradley.
- D.J. Williams was in the building tonight, as was another 2015 recruit in Aaron Jordan. I only mention this because Aaron Jordan is on some kind of Unofficial Visit World Tour. That kid is EVERYWHERE these days. If there's a college basketball game going on, Aaron Jordan is there. Sometimes he's two places at once.
Points per possession: 1.32
Turnover rate: 19.6%
FT Rate: 35.6%
Points per possession: 0.88
Turnover rate: 11.2%
FT Rate: 22.0%