ICYMI: Illinois vs. Bradley
Nov. 18, 2013
By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer
Getting Comfortable with Distance
After starting the season struggling from behind the arc, the Illini showed improvement in their three-point range in Sunday night's 81-55 win over Bradley, particularly in the second half. The Orange and Blue entered the game hitting just 26 percent from behind the arc in the first three games, and went just 3-of-14 from downtown in the first half.
However, in the second half, the Illini came out roaring from three-point land, hitting four threes in the first four minutes to break out of the slump. As a team, the Illini ended up hitting 7-of-11 from three-point range after the break to finish 10-of-25 for the game (40 percent).
"Forty percent or higher, you take that one," Illinois head coach John Groce said. "We made seven out of 11 in the second half to kind of bust the game open a little bit. It was good to see Tracy knock a couple down, Kendrick knocked a couple down. I think we've taken good ones. We move the ball. We've been doing that really early. And sometimes I think one of the things when you first get together as a team is getting them to make that extra pass and move the ball, and our guys have really done it."
Ekey Shines Against Familiar Foe
Reminiscent of forwards from years past, graduate student Jon Ekey has stepped into his first year with the Illini showing his versatility and athleticism. Ekey's active hands under the basket are giving his teammates second chances, as he has a team-high 15 offensive rebounds on the season including four on Sunday against Bradley. He also posted his first double-digit scoring game as an Illini, putting up 19 points, including a monster tip dunk and hitting 5-of-7 from three-point range.
"I think Jon is an enigma a little bit, that's why I keep talking about his intelligence," Groce said. "For him to pick up what we're doing, as fast as he has since the summer, I think speaks volumes of number one, his coachability, and number two, his teachability. That's rare. He's a very intelligent player and a tremendous asset for our team."
As a transfer from Bradley's Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State Redbirds, Ekey had played a fair share of games against Bradley before suiting up on Sunday night. Now an Illini, he has built a strong bond with his new teammates and is recognized as a leader among the players.
"Definitely more comfortable now," Ekey said. "I've been in (the State Farm Center) a few times and got more shots up, things like that. Got to feel out the team and how Coach coaches during games. Little bit of a feeling out period in the summer and figuring out how it was going to be, but now everybody is going full steam ahead."
Graduate student Ekey poured in a team-high 19 points against Bradley, and he's not even one of the four Illini averaging double figures on the season (he's at 8.5 ppg through four games). Rayvonte Rice was the UI's leading scorer against Alabama State (22 points) and Valparaiso (18) and added 13 against Jacksonville State. Joseph Bertrand had a season-high 20 points against Jacksonville State and had 14 each against Alabama State and Valparaiso. Nnanna Egwu, meanwhile, has been consistent, totaling 10 points against each of the opening three opponents.
Against the Braves Sunday night, Rice (13 points) and Egwu (another 10 points) joined Ekey in double-figures for the fourth time this season. Tracy Abrams also added 12 points for the night.
"I thought we did some good things today at both ends of the floor," Coach Groce said. "I thought our rebounding was very aggressive, and, offensively, we had 28 field goals and 19 assists (season-high). I thought a couple plays that Rice had where he was somewhat open but passed it to Tracy for more wide open shots was very unselfish. I thought our team played that way all day today."
Crashing the Boards
Illinois dominated the rebounding battle, winning the battle of the boards 49-25 overall. The Illini also had 19 offensive boards, 10 more than Bradley. Illinois was +24 on the glass for the second time this season, having outrebounded Alabama State 52-28 in the season opener.
"Play together and share the ball, we did a great job with that tonight," Abrams said. "Making guys better and making the extra pass, that's great for us and hopefully we can keep it going. Coach talks about transition, we're a good transition team but we've got to play transition defense as well as get the run."