Illini basketball unselfish in win over Austin Peay

Illinois%27+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+attempts+a+lay+up+during+the+game+against+Austin+Peay+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+21%2C+2014.+The+Illini+won+107-66.
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Illini basketball unselfish in win over Austin Peay

Illinois' Malcolm Hill (21) attempts a lay up during the game against Austin Peay at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The Illini won 107-66.

Illinois' Malcolm Hill (21) attempts a lay up during the game against Austin Peay at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The Illini won 107-66.

Illinois' Malcolm Hill (21) attempts a lay up during the game against Austin Peay at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The Illini won 107-66.

Illinois' Malcolm Hill (21) attempts a lay up during the game against Austin Peay at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The Illini won 107-66.

Head coach John Groce preaches unselfish basketball. 

On Friday night, the Illinois men’s basketball team’s commitment to making the extra pass paid off. Illinois (3-0) spread the ball around well, and finished with 20 assists in a 107-66 win over Austin Peay (1-3) at State Farm Center.

“We passed up shots to go from a good to great shot,” Groce said. “We were very, very unselfish. Guys were in tune to the offensive game plan — recognizing that we were playing against a shot blocking team.” 

Malcolm Hill and Rayvonte Rice led the way for Illinois with 16 points each. Nanna Egwu, Ahmad Starks and Kendrick Nunn all finished in double-figures as well. 

Despite a slow start offensively, the Illini finished 56 percent from three on the way to the blowout win.

They opened the game 1-for-6 from three and as a result Austin Peay took an early 8-5 lead. Groce said his teem didn’t look ready to play on the defensive end in the game’s first four minutes. 

As the half progressed, however, the Illini pulled away from the Governors. Illinois finished the half shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range — which resulted in a 46-25 lead at the break.

Illinois picked up where it left offensively in the second half, scoring 16 quick points and building a 62-35 lead while continuing to shoot the ball at a high clip. Illinois shot 75 percent from the field in the second half.

At points in the second half, the Illini looked as if they could score at will against Austin Peay.

“About everybody made shots at a high percentage tonight,” Groce said.

The Illini broke the century mark with 3:47 left in the second half, but by that point the game’s outcome had long been decided.

In addition to their 16 points each, Hill and Rice had nearly identical stat lines with six rebounds and three assists. Nunn was close behind them with 14 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from three.

Rice said for both himself and the other Illini, the unselfishness is something the team has bought into early on this season.

“We just don’t care who’s going to be the leading scorer,” Rice said. “It could be somebody different every night.” 

While it was the Illini offense that yet again stole the show, the team also played exceptionally well on the defensive end. The Illini held the Governors to 66 points, while forcing 18 Austin Peay turnovers.

In the end it was the Illini’s stellar shooting and unselfish passing from behind the arc that delivered the team its third victory of the year. Egwu said that although it was fun to see the Illini play unselfish, exciting basketball against the Governors, the key will be if the team can keep up its pass first mentality.

“The main thing is that this is just three games,” Egwu said. “We have to continue to do this and be consistent with it throughout the whole year. If we can keep doing this, like having 20 assists, in January and February we’ll really be in business offensively.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @IlliniSportsGuy.