Never a doubt! And with the Illini, never a breather.
UIC opened the game with a three-pointer, buried it, then kept shooting, then kept burying them. The Illini had no answer for any of UIC's questions because those questions were too busy being drained from behind the arc.
Kelsey Barlow, former Purdue Boilermaker, was highlighted in the game preview, and in the first half, he exceeded our worried expectations. He did whatever he wanted. After 20 minutes, Barlow had 18 points, UIC was shooting 62 percent from the field and outrebounding the Illini 19-to-8, and the UIC Twitter account couldn't contain their excitement.
UIC up 44-34 over Illinois at halftime!!! Kelsey Barlow with 18 points! #FireUpFlames— UIC Flames (@uicflamesdotcom) December 28, 2013
All of those exclamation points were appropriate. Comparisons to horrific Illini losses of years past were getting thrown around easily and frequently. It was a miserable halftime.
Thankfully, it only took one minute of second half play to flip momentum towards Champaign, where it would stay the rest of the game. Rayvonte Rice began his explosion with a layup. Jon Ekey got involved with a steal, leading to a Tracy Abrams 3-pointer. Twenty seconds later, Joe Bertrand capped off the run with an inhuman layup, and the Illini were only down two.
Barlow's heater ended as he couldn't match Rice or Abrams, who each drove to the hole and finished at will. Rice finished with his highest total as an Illini--28 points--with Abrams adding 16 points of his own. Every member of the Illini got hot, just as every member of the Flames went cold, and the Illini rolled, avoiding what could have been a devastating loss.
|Rayvonte Rice - 28||Points||Kelsey Barlow - 21|
|Nnanna Egwu - 7||Rebounds||Jordan Harks - 9|
|Tracy Abrams - 4||Assists||Kelsey Barlow - 6|
- Rayvonte Rice can impose his will at any point in a game, and I still haven't seen a defense capable of stopping him. He's a walking storyline on the court to the announcers. They talk about his non-recruitment from Illinois, his time at Drake, his transfer-recruitment from Illinois, his weight loss, his drive, his strength, his everything. And all the while, he's raking. Today, he and Tracy saved the day.
- Tracy Abrams had another wonderful game. In the Illini's last two ballgames, it's tough to imagine them winning without Tracy doing his thing on the court. Who still has their doubts about this bulldog?
- Joe Bertrand continues to contribute in every aspect of team basketball. He finished today with 14 points, five rebounds and, surprisingly, zero assists. But as is the case with Joe. B, he provided that necessary freak athlete spark, and I'm curious to see how many second assists (pass-to-assist) he had.
- Big Ten play begins on Tuesday. Let's go.