CHAMPAIGN — The Illini downed Quincy 87-52 in their exhibition game at the State Farm Center on Friday night.
There’s been a lot of talk about Illinois’ newcomers and for good reason. That said, it was returners Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez who led the Illini with 15 points a piece in this 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. Freshman forward Ty Rodgers provided nine rebounds to go along with seven points and two assists.
Brad Underwood‘s squad shot 45 percent from the field, while Quincy shot just 31 percent. An aggressive Illini defense forced Quincy into 25 turnovers, which Illinois turned into 32 points at the other end.
While the final margin was rather comfortable, the Illini let Quincy hang around in this one due to a sloppy start and poor three-point shooting (6-for-34). The Hawks actually got out to an 8-2 lead in the opening minutes with the help of a couple threes and sloppy turnovers by Illinois at the other end. The Illini locked in after that, as they went on a 15-3 run to secure a lead that 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 a made three (0-10). Hawkins finally got one to go off an assist from Brandon Lieb to make it 29-18 Illinois with 2:49 left in the first half.
The Illini held a 10-point lead at the half and then broke it open 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 it means: Basketball season is back! Unsurprisingly, the Illini have plenty to work on with a bunch of new faces and a new brand of basketball. But that’s why you play exhibitions. This is a talented team and one that showed some good flashes, but Brad Underwood will surely look forward to getting back to the practice court before the opener early next month.
Star of the game: Hawkins registered a double-double with an efficient shooting performance (6-for-9) and he also added two steals. The junior big man played with the confidence and composure (mostly) that you’d expect from a veteran. He did have four turnovers, including a couple while in-bounding the ball. That said, it was still a good showing. Hawkins added two steals as well and he was the point man of Illinois’ fullcourt press.
Status of the game: Underwood has talked a ton about upping the pace this year. His team really got up and down on Friday night with 22 fastbreak points, and it should have been more with a couple more finishes. Illinois’ increased aggressiveness at the defensive end led to 13 steals. The Illini showed that they have multiple guys who can push the ball up the floor and the increase in athleticism was noticeable.
Don’t overlook: Illinois’ lack of three-point shooting. That will be one of the big questions early on, especially with Luke Goode sidelined after breaking his foot in the closed scrimmage against Kansas. The Illini have a handful of capable shot-makers, but many of them are either freshmen or guys who are stepping into a larger role than before. Illinois made 295 threes last year, which was the second-most in a season in school history (only trailed 2004-05). It remains to be seen how well Underwood’s squad will fare in that category this season.
What’s next: The Illini will return to action on Nov. 7 for the season opener against Eastern Illinois at the State Farm Center (8 p.m. CT, ESPNU). The Panthers were a dreadful 5-26 a year ago in Marty Simmons’ first season at the helm. KenPom isn’t expecting EIU to be much better this year. The Panthers are ranked 354th out of 363 D1 teams on their preseason screenings.