Illinois dominate Auburn in bounce-back game

Illinois was flawless Sunday. Auburn basketball may not hold the same clout as Auburn football, but Illinois dominated every facet of the game in an 81-62 win.

Tracy Abrams probably wishes he could play Auburn every game. The junior point guard has struggled mightily this season, entering the game with a 31.0 field goal percentage, but he led a potent offensive attack against Auburn.

In last year’s matchup against Auburn, Abrams had arguably his best game of the season with 27 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and four steals in an 81-79 win on Dec. 29. Abrams had 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in the first half alone Sunday.

Illinois played its best 20-minute stretch of the season in the first half against Auburn. Illinois shot 60 percent in the half while holding Auburn to only 26.1 percent shooting from the field. Illinois entered halftime with a ridiculous 41-17 lead after ending the half on a 24-6 run.

There must be something up with Phillips Arena in Atlanta. Only two days after Kyle Korver broke the NBA record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer at 90 in the same arena, the Illini kept the 3-point line warm in the sharpshooter’s absence. Illinois drained 12 threes in the game at a 52.2 percent clip.

This was as unselfish as Illinois has been all season long. Abrams and Rayvonte Rice cut out the “dribble for five seconds and jack up a 3-pointer” routine and instead helped facilitate a balanced Illini attack. Six different players made 3-pointers for the Illini. Most of the 3-pointers were set up off penetration. Jon Ekey especially benefitted from the kickouts, as he connected on four 3-pointers, most of which were from his favorite corner spot.

Rice has solidified himself as the best player on this team. He led Illinois with 22 points on Sunday, becoming the first Illini newcomer to score double digits in the team’s first nine games of the season since 1993-94. Rice can’t be contained on the drive, but what has made him unstoppable is his newfound stroke. Rice has now made at least two 3-pointers in five straight games after drilling two against Auburn. If Rice continues to knock down perimeter shots with regularity, he’s almost unguardable.

Auburn was flustered at the offense end from the onset of the game. Illinois started the game in a 2-3 zone and later switched to a tight man-to-man defense that threw off the Auburn offense. Auburn’s leading scorer, Chris Denson, who entered the game averaging the 19th best points per game in the country at 21.8, could never get it going Sunday. Denson finished with a season-low eight points, with all of his scores coming in garbage time. You know it was going bad for Auburn offensively when the Fox Sports Midwest announcers asked Charles Barkley if he still had eligibility remaining. The question was a joke, but really, Auburn could’ve used him.

Illinois needed this game. The heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech is now in the past. After the cupcake game against Dartmouth on Tuesday, Illinois faces its stiffest competition yet in consecutive games against Oregon and Missouri. If Illinois plays like it did Sunday, they’ll have more than enough to pull off the upsets.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @The_MDubb.