It was an ugly first half in Champaign as neither team was able to find any sort of rhythm on offense. The Illini held a 27-11 lead at one point, but the Pirates pulled back to within single digits and they only trailed 37-25 at the half. Kendrick Nunn made an immediate impact in his second start of the year as he had 10 points, 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in the first 20 minutes of play.
Illinois made some nice adjustments during halftime and they came out firing on all cylinders. The Illini defense certainly came to play in the second half as there was a 7:00 minute stretch in which the Pirates didn't score any points. During this run, contributions from Nunn and Jaylon Tate propelled the Illini to a lead that they'd never relinquish
Things We Learned:
1. Jaylon Tate has taken some steps forward
This is by far the biggest takeaway from the game. He still has a long way to go, but Jaylon Tate has definitely made some strides. He's still not shooting many jumpers, but he's been far more aggressive on offense. Frankly, that's exactly what Illinois needs out of their Point Guard right now. Tate is driving the ball to the basket, drawing fouls, and making free throws. Plus when he's not shooting, he's making the right pass out to shooters on the arch.
Does he need to be playing more than Starks? Probably not. However a case could be made if he continues this type of play into Big Ten season.
2. Kendrick Nunn needs to be option #3
Kendrick Nunn played a fantastic game tonight; he finished the night with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists on 6/9 shooting. It certainly appears that Groce made the right decision by inserting him into the lineup over Aaron Cosby. If Nunn can consistently be the team's #3 scoring option (and occasionally #2) behind Rice and Hill, this offense team will be in a great place.
Illinois Fighting Illini: