ICYMI: Illinois vs. Jacksonville State
Nov. 11, 2013
By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer
Illinois 86, Jacksonville State 62
The Joe Bertrand Show
At Friday's season-opener against Alabama State, senior Joseph Bertrand got his final season in Orange and Blue off to a solid start, scoring 14 points to go along with eight boards, marking his best offensive performance since tallying a season-high 17 points last year against Wisconsin (Feb. 3). But Bertrand was ready to one-up himself against the Gamecocks in Illinois' second game of the season Sunday evening.
Bertrand was all over the State Farm Center court, notching his first career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the 86-62 victory, the Illini's 24th straight non-conference home win. The fifth-year senior hit 7-of-9 from the field, including his first six baskets, and 6-of-8 from the free-throw line, while also adding three assists on the night.
"I thought he was terrific," Illinois head coach John Groce said of Bertrand. "I basically told him, I'm not taking you out until you tell me you're tired, because I thought he was the one guy that was really locked in. He finally came out in the second half, but I thought you could tell he was really dialed in the whole time and was really competitive on the glass, competitive defensively and I thought he made a lot of plays for us."
"I think [Coach Groce] has really pushed me to get in the lane, and that's one of the things I do best," Bertrand said. "Taking straight-line drives and focusing on that, and playing without the ball a lot. They've really been on me with rebounding as well. We've done a good job of crashing the glass, and that's one of the things we've really been working on at practice."
One of just two seniors that's available to play this season - and the only one who has spent his entire career with the Illini - Bertrand brings athleticism and experience to the roster. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring (7.3 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.1 rpg) while shooting better than 50 percent from the field in 2012-13.
"I think part of it's being a fifth year senior," Groce said. "I always say, freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to score and seniors want to win. That's probably a little too much of a stereotype, but I don't know how far off that really is. I think right now, we talk every day and [Joe] realizes that you can't get that day back. There are only so many days left he has in that Illini jersey and it means something to him."
Bertrand's second chance baskets and pushing the ball inside showcased his performance. Without his two wingmen from last year - Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson - Bertrand has had to continue on with a new set of teammates, but his leadership role is shining through on the court.
"I don't think it's been too much of a difference," Bertrand said. "We've got some new guys and they can score as well. It's a whole new team and I think we're gelling together pretty well so far. It's the same system and we're doing the same things, and I think it's going to work for us."
"We're asking him to do the same things, he's just doing them better," Groce said. "He understands our defense better. For us, I thought he was really good last year. He was obviously an important part of our team and it's no different this year. I do think he's gotten better, that's probably the biggest difference. He's stronger, his strength and conditioning numbers are indicative of that. He did an unbelievable job of rehabilitating his injury, he worked every day to come back, and to come back earlier, and he did a great job of that. I think he understands the system better. He's gotten better through skill instruction, and he's just improved."
In addition to Bertrand, five other Illini were in double figures. Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice both had 13 points, while Nnanna Egwu and Jaylon Tate added to Illinois' scoring with 10 apiece. And, for the second time in two games, all 11 available Illini played and scored in the game.
Illinois also improved their turnovers from their first game with only five against the Gamecocks, and didn't commit a turnover in the second half.
Next up for the 2-0 Illini is Valparaiso at State Farm Center Wednesday night. The Crusaders are 2-0 on the season and have former Illini Roger Powell, Jr., on staff as an assistant coach. Powell played on three Big Ten Championship teams at Illinois and was a key member of the 2005 National Runner-up team.