Illinois basketball still has flaws after dominant exhibition win over Lewis


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Mike Thorne Jr. (33) rises up for a dunk over Lewis’ Delaney Blaylock (20) during the game at State Farm Center on Friday, November 4. Thorne shot 6-6 from the field and the Illini won 95-51.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

In a final tune-up game before the first official game of the season, the Illinois basketball team looked to be in sync for the most part, defeating Division II opponent Lewis 95-51.

In thier second and final exhibition game, the Illini had an advantage in just about every statistical category, including turnovers.

Despite the lopsided victory, Illinois turned the ball over 21 times. Last season Illinois’ highest amount of turnovers in a game was 16 on two separate occasions – against Chattanooga and Western Carolina.

Head coach John Groce attributed his team’s turnover trouble with the high tempo Illinois has been playing with recently.

“We’re playing at such a faster speed right now than we ever have,” Groce said. “I use the analogy with my friend down in the locker room, you can give somebody a Ferrari, but they’ve got to know how to drive it.”

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    Illinois demonstrated its fast speed in the first half. After leading 12-9 with about 14 minutes left in the first half, the Illini exploded on an 11-0 run.

    The Illini finished the first half with a commanding 49 to 22 lead, shooting 62 percent from the field. Twelve of Illinois’ 26 shots were three pointers.

    Illinois dominated the second half, outscoring the Flyers 46-29, but Groce still found things his team needs to work on. Groce was upset with how his team started and ended the second half.

    The Flyers started the second half with a steal and two consecutive baskets.

    “Beginning of the second half, defensively was not great,” Groce said. “Those first two possessions you don’t want to give up two layups to start a second half.”

    With about six minutes remaining in the game and an 81-45 lead, Illinois went on a two-minute scoreless stretch. In that time frame, the Illini went 0-4 from the field.

    Groce didn’t like the shot selection from his team at that time.

    “I thought when we got the lead late the one lineup that was in there went hero ball too much for me,” Groce said. “Guys started jacking shots and we hadn’t done that the whole game. Just because you have a lead doesn’t give you a license to do that.”

    Illinois went nine deep for a majority of the game and had six players in double-digit scoring. Center Mike Thorne Jr.  had the most efficient shooting night for the Illini scoring 12 points off of a 100 percent field goal performance.

    Thorne Jr. gave Groce a bit of a scare early in the second half when he came down from a defensive rebound and started limping indicating his right leg was hurting. He was addressed by trainers and taken to the locker room, but returned to action with 11 minutes left in the game.

    The diagnosis was a quad cramp due to lack of hydration. Thorne Jr.’s season was cut short last year due to a meniscus tear in his left leg.

    Throne Jr. said his return from injury has been one of the hardest things he’s done in his basketball career. Thorne Jr. credits his teammates for helping him adjust getting back to game action.

    “Maverick Morgan has done a great job at helping me keep my confidence up and teaching me about the game,” Thorne Jr. said. “Even with bad days this is a guy (that says) keep your head up you’re going to get it.”

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