CHAMPAGNE — The Illini defeated Quincy 87-52 in their exhibition game at State Farm Center on Friday night.
Illinois newcomers have been talked about a lot and for good reason. That said, it was feedback Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez who led the Illini with 15 points per play in that game. They went 12 for 19 combined from the field.
Hawkins also led the Illini in rebounding with 12 boards, including four on the offensive glass. First-year student Ty Rodgers provided nine rebounds to go along with seven points and two assists.
Brad UnderwoodThe team shot 45% from the field, while Quincy only shot 31%. An aggressive Illini defense forced Quincy to 25 turnovers, which Illinois turned into 32 points at the other end.
While the final margin was pretty comfortable, the Illini let Quincy trail in this one due to a sloppy start and poor three-point shot (6 for 34). The Hawks actually took an 8-2 lead in the opening minutes thanks to some threes and some sloppy turnovers from Illinois at the other end. The Illini locked in after that as they went on a 15-3 run to secure a lead they never relinquished.
Still, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing throughout the rest of the first half. The Illini went the first 17 minutes of the game without going three (0-10). Hawkins finally got one to make an assist from Brandon Lieb to make Illinois 29-18 with 2:49 left in the first half.
The Illini held a 10-point halftime lead, then broke it later in the second half with a 14-0 run. Terrence Shannon Jr. (10) and skyy clark (9) led Illinois in scoring after the break. The Illini outscored Quincy 53-28 after halftime.
What this means: Basketball season is back! Unsurprisingly, the Illini have plenty to work with with a bunch of new faces and a new brand of basketball. But that’s why you put on exhibitions. They are a talented team and have shown good flashes, but Brad Underwood will surely be looking forward to returning to the training ground before the game opens early next month.
Game Star: Hawkins recorded a double-double with an effective shooting performance (6-for-9) and he also added two interceptions. The junior big man played with the confidence and composure (mostly) you expect from a veteran. He had four turnovers, including a couple while chaining the ball. That said, it was still a good performance. Hawkins also added two interceptions and he was the point man for the press all over the Illinois court.
Game statistics: Underwood has been talking a lot about picking up the pace this year. His team really went up and down Friday night with 22 fastbreak points, and it should have been more with a few more finishes. Illinois’ increased aggression on the defensive end led to 13 interceptions. The Illini showed they had several guys who could push the ball on the floor and the increase in athleticism was noticeable.
Do not overlook: Illinois’ lack of three-point shooting. This will be one of the big questions early on, especially with Luke Goode sidelined after breaking his foot in the scrimmage against Kansas. The Illini have a handful of capable shooters, but many of them are either freshmen or guys who play bigger roles than before. Illinois made 295 lines last year, which was the second-most in a season in school history (only tracked in 2004-05). It remains to be seen how well the Underwood side will fare in this category this season.
And after: The Illini will return to action Nov. 7 for the season opener against Eastern Illinois at State Farm Center (8 p.m. CT, ESPNU). The Panthers were abysmal 5-26 a year ago in Marty Simmons’ first season at the helm. KenPom doesn’t expect EIU to be much better this year. The Panthers are ranked 354th out of 363 D1 teams on their pre-season projections.
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