The Illinois Fighting Illini entered Monday night's game with the nation's #1 scoring offense, but it certainly didn't translate in the first half against Brown. The Illini shot 30.6% from the field (11-36) and 26.7% from three-point range (4-15). The Bears were able to take advantage of this slow start and entered half time with a surprising 35-31 lead.
John Groce's halftime speech must've lit a fire under the team because they came out of the locker room completely re-energized. Illinois went on a quick 15-0 run to start the 2nd half and they never relinquished the lead. Illinois' 89 points guarantees that they'll still have the #1 offense for another day.
The Illini will be heading out West on Tuesday morning for the Las Vegas Invitational. The team has a Thanksgiving-night matchup against Indiana State and they'll also play the winner/loser of Baylor/Memphis the next day. But before those tournament games, here's what we learned from Monday's victory:
Three Things We Learned:
1. Slow starts
Illinois came out flat again tonight; it's almost as if there's a "if we show up, we'll win" mentality against these smaller opponents. The Illini had their first shooting drought of the year during the first half and the players were visibly upset on both ends of the court. This won't be the last time this happens during the course of the year and the players need to do a better job of fighting through it.
Was this performance simply a result of the team looking forward to their Vegas trip tomorrow? Perhaps. However In my opinion, the lackluster start is exactly what Illinois needed. Look for them to come out strong against Indiana State on Thursday.
2. If all else fails, give Rayvonte Rice the ball
With so many scoring options on the team, it's easy to forget that Rayvonte Rice is the team's best player. His final stat line was 15 points (4/8 shooting), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The scary thing about Rice is that he's been more patient on the offensive end--he's willing to pass up a shot in order to give his teammates a better look. He's been incredibly efficient through these first four games.
3. Break games are the worst
The atmosphere at State Farm Center is horrid when the Orange Krush isn't in attendance. It's unfortunate that most of the older fans choose to not participate in making noise (looking at you, court-side seat holders), but it's something that the Illini have to deal with. The Krush will be back on December 6th against American, but that'll be the last game until January 21st when Purdue comes to town.