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Illinois routs Evansville, 99-60, in season opener

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Five players finished in double figures.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Talk about a way to start the season.

In their first competition of the 2018-19 campaign, the Illinois Fighting Illini defeated the Evansville Purple Aces, 99-60, on Thursday night at State Farm Center.

“There were a lot of things to like tonight,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Very pleased with 22 assists. I think that’s something this team is capable of on a lot of nights... They’re unselfish.”

It was an all-around complete effort by the Illini (1-0). Five players finished in double figures, Giorgi Bezhanishvili pulled down 10 boards, Trent Frazier dished out seven assists, and Ayo Dosunmu finished with three steals. The defense forced 25 turnovers and held the Purple Aces to just 38 percent shooting from the field.

“I liked our defense in the first half and parts of the second half,” Underwood said. “I think our turning point was the three-quarter court 1-2-2.”

After a couple of stale minutes to start the game, the Illini began firing on all cylinders. Underwood made the switch to his full-court defense coming out of the first media timeout, and the rest was history.

The backcourt of Andres Feliz, Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan combined for 40 of the team’s 53 first-half points, as well as having 10 assists, nine rebounds, and six steals in the first frame. Feliz shredded the Evansville 2-3 zone by getting in gaps, drawing fouls at the rim, and finding the open guys on the wing. On the other side of that, Jordan took advantage of Feliz’s playmaking ability by cashing in on 4-of-7 three-point attempts.

While the Illini offense flourished, the win was thanks in large part to the stingy defense. Illinois forced the Purple Aces (0-1) into 15 turnovers in the first half and converted roughly half of those into points on the other end.

“Tonight was a great example of turning defense into offense and easy points,” Underwood said.

The onslaught continued in the second half with walk-ons Drew Cayce, Tyler Underwood and Samson Oladimeji all getting in on the action in an overall dominating performance for Illinois against a much weaker Evansville team.

Bezhanishvili picked up two quick fouls midway through the second half, including a technical for voicing his displeasure with the preceding foul call, but he gave the Illini quality frontcourt minutes. The only blemish on the night was Feliz’s five turnovers, but Underwood couldn’t have asked for a much better tune-up game out of his team before Tuesday against Georgetown.

“This game we played hard from start to finish,” Dosunmu said. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting better.”

Underwood held freshman Alan Griffin out from Thursday’s game, noting he tweaked his knee in practice Sunday. He did say he should be good to go by Tuesday.

Fellow freshman Samba Kane was also held out of the game due to a “violation of team rules.”

SOUND SMART

HE SAID IT

WHO’S NEXT

Competition picks up quick for the Illini. Illinois hosts the Georgetown Hoyas on Tuesday as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.

The Hoyas are in their second year with head coach Patrick Ewing and finished last season 15-15. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT.