Illinois basketball wins in sloppy fashion

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%28center%29+receives+help+up+after+being+fouled+while+shooting+a+three+during+the+game+against+Southeast+Missouri+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday%2C+November+11.+The+Illini+won+81-62.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (center) receives help up after being fouled while shooting a three during the game against Southeast Missouri at State Farm Center on Friday, November 11. The Illini won 81-62.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

If Illinois basketball starts every game like it did with Southeast Missouri, it’s going to be a long season for head coach John Groce.

The Illini won 81-62, but they looked out of sync in the first half of their season-opener against a team that won only five games last year.

Could have it been game-one nerves? Sure.

Is Southeast Missouri a better team than expected? Doubtful.

The first half finished with Illinois leading 37-31. The Illini trailed for about 13 minutes in the first half.

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    Illinois kept trying to rely on the three, even when it wasn’t working. The Illini shot 4-for-18 from deep in the first half.

    Illinois pushed the tempo for the entire game, averaging 16 seconds per possession. This run and gun type offense is fine, as long as you can produce. Shooting that poorly from deep against a team like Southeast Missouri is concerning.

    Instead of the deep ball, the one bright spot of the first half was Maverick Morgan. He went 100 percent from the field in the first half and led Illinois with 12 points. He stayed poised and finished with soft touches inside. A much different player than he was last season.

    The second half went better than the first, but that’s not saying much. Illinois outscored the Redhawks 44-31, but there were still some hiccups to address.

    Center Mike Thorne Jr. was called for an offensive three-seconds, Illinois was called for a five-second violation when they couldn’t inbound the ball on a simple sideline play, the Illini turned the ball over 16 times and Illinois didn’t go back to Morgan in the paint.

    Groce said the Redhawks made it difficult to keep going inside.

    “They’re fronting the post, they’re scrappy, they’re aggressive, they pressure, they deny, they’re disruptive,” Groce said. “It’s not like even though you have that size advantage they’re just letting you come down and throw it in.”

    Morgan didn’t contribute as much in the second half as he did in the first. He made two more shots and finished the game with 16 points. The Illini can’t afford to not utilize Morgan’s skill inside.

    Alongside Morgan, forwards Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke and guard Tracy Abrams all had solid games.

    Hill led the Illini with 21 points and eight rebounds. In his first game in two seasons Abrams had 13 points on a 4-for-5 shooting night. Finke finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.

    It’s a good start, but don’t view this 19-point victory as a strong start to the year. They won’t be able to get away with sloppy play later on this season.

    Will this be Illinois’ only struggle of the season?

    Doubtful.

     Matt is a Junior in Business

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier