It was the first game in the State Farm Center with the new uniforms and a revamped team. After going down 3-0 early to the Quincy Hawks, the Illini never looked back and cruised to an easy victory. This win doesn't actually count, but it was good to see how the team looked and what we need to work on heading into our opener against Georgia Southern next week.
There wasn't a whole lot of bad in this game other than some bad passes which led to easy Quincy dunks. For a while in the second half the Illini let their foot of the gas, but they were eventually able to re-establish their early lead and had their biggest lead of the game (29) at the very end.
Malcolm Hill stood out the most; he looked much more comfortable and fluid then last year. He put up similar numbers as he did in the scrimmage a few weeks back as he went for 20 points (6/10, 2/4 from deep) and added two rebounds and two assists. He made a big contribution on offense throughout the game--expect him to emerge as a leader on that end as the season progresses.
Freshman Leron Black was another major contributor on offense. He put 15 points (7/9!) and 8 rebounds while displaying some nice jumpers and had some beautiful tip-ins. It would have been extremely encouraging/fun to see him put a double-double in his first game as a freshmen, but I guess this incredible effort will suffice. His transition from the high school to college game seems to be just fine and he looks a lot more natural then some of the freshmen last year. I believe that he will be a key contributor and will fight to be the 6th man with Kendrick Nunn/Aaron Cosby. We didn't see Nunn tonight because the coaching staff wants him to be fully healthy when the games that count come along.
Nnanna Egwu added some great things on defense. He had 5 blocks and 13 boards to go along with 7 points (jumper looked nice). He is a major presence on defense and he has the capabilities to gain B1G All-Defensive Team honors as well as some national recognition.
Aaron Cosby is very good at stretching the floor and will help us this year. Even though he missed quite a few shots he was able to put up 11 points and 3 assists. Look for him to drive, but still be consistent from deep.
Rayvonte Rice also had 11 points. There were instances when he tried to force shots like last year, but overall he was much more patient. Even though he didn't score much I was encouraged because he will be able to take better shots this year and add more to the team.
Ahmad Starks had 5 points and 5 assists and was very quick off of screens. He wasn't able to get his shot going, but that was okay as the offense still scored 91 points. I think that will be a key difference between this year and last year; we don't need a particular player or two to score as we can spread the ball around. Speaking of spreading it around, Starks and Jaylon Tate combined for 10 of Illinois' 19 assists on the night. If they can keep dishing it out to Cosby and Rice on the wings, we'll be successful.
It seems that Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert find themselves at the bottom of posts again as neither did much. They both hit a few nice jumpers and dunks, but that was about it. Michael Finke had 9 points in what felt like a two minute span; he hit a three and made some other nice plays around the basket.
I was afraid Mike LaTulip wouldn't get in but he did at the end and well this sums it up:
The one man fast break and one!!
— Bryce (@OrangeBlueCraze) November 8, 2014
If you have no idea what I'm talking about LaTulip went on a fast break and was able to get an and-one. Looked like LeBron out there.
The entire team looked a lot better and this looks to be a promising season for the Illini. The team has a lot more depth and can throw in anyone to get some points. The only question is whether or not they'll be able to defend and rebound effectively.