Illinois men’s basketball wins season opener 81-62

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+goes+up+for+a+layup+during+the+game+against+Southeast+Missouri+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday.+The+Illini+won+81-62.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill goes up for a layup during the game against Southeast Missouri at State Farm Center on Friday. The Illini won 81-62.

By Lucas Wright, Staff writer

On a day where the Illinois men’s basketball team was far from perfect on the offensive end, Maverick Morgan put up a perfect 8-for-8 from the field finishing with 16 points in an 81-62 win over Southeast Missouri State.

In the early stages of the game, Morgan and point guard Tracy Abrams were nearly the entirety of the offense, as the Illini struggled to separate themselves from the Redhawks.

Illinois trailed until less than five minutes remained in the first half, until a 12-0 run capped off by an Abrams three gave the Illini a 30-25 lead. While the Illini found the bottom of the net toward the end of the half, Abrams said it was the defensive stops that spurred the run.

“We talked a lot more during that stretch, but we didn’t panic though,” Abrams said. “We took on the challenge even more.”

Abrams’ perimeter play paced the offense throughout the majority of the game, while his two first-half three-pointers helped carry Illinois into halftime with a lead. Abrams finished with 13 points and three assists.

Coming back from the break with a 37-31 lead, guard Malcolm Hill came alive for the Illini. While only tallying five points in the first half, Hill finished with 21 points and was two rebounds shy of a double-double.

“We all have a ton of confidence in him, if his shot’s not falling, we tell him to keep shooting,” forward Michael Finke said. “We need him making plays for us, and he’s making people better when he’s out there, so whenever he’s out on the court it’s a good thing for us.”

“As long as he’s aggressive, we win,” Abrams added.

Despite stretching the lead to 20 midway through the second half, the game was marred with some sloppy plays on the Illinois’ offensive end. The team finished with 16 turnovers, and at times struggled to put away the Redhawks who finished with five wins last year.

“We’ve got to clean up taking care of the ball,” head coach John Groce said. “Even though we’re playing faster, we’ve got to have less than 16 turnovers to reach our potential.”

Rounding out the Illinois offense was Finke, who was 3-for-5 from deep, with 12 points and seven boards. Jalen Coleman-Lands struggled from the field in the first half, but finished 3-for-10 from behind the arc.

The Illini finished with a 19-point win to start the season, and Groce said he was proud of his team’s resiliency coming back from a slow start.

“We just kind of kept hanging in there,” Groce said. “It’s characteristic of an older team. Those six seniors, they just talk more now and they know what they’re doing. They were really engaged tonight, and it helps when players have that disposition for sure.”

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