Illini offense breaking records early in season


Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice (24) lays the ball up during the game against Austin Peay at State Farm Center on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The Illini won 107-66.

By Sean Neumann

Illinois’ offense has already been record breaking.

The Illini have averaged 100.3 points per game through their first three contests, scoring more than 100 in their last two games — the first time Illinois has done so since 1993.

“They really shot the ball well,” Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said after Illinois’ 107-66 win Friday at State Farm Center. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a team shoot the basketball as well as they did tonight.”

Illinois made 29 3-pointers in its last two wins, the most for an Illini team since 2005’s national runner-up squad.

“This is a fun team,” senior Nnanna Egwu said. “Sometimes I wish I could just sit back and watch us.”

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Senior guard Rayvonte Rice leads Illinois with 54 points in the team’s first three games.

Illini coach John Groce said Rice arrives early for every game and shoots for nearly an hour beforehand. Groce complemented the senior for his hard work.

“Ray’s getting what he deserves and what he’s earned,” Groce said.

Rice said this year’s Illini team has more shooters than last year’s squad.

Illinois has had a player reach double-digit scoring 15 times already this season.

Five Illini players scored more than 10 points in Friday’s win — Egwu, Rice, Malcolm Hill, Ahmad Starks, and Kendrick Nunn, while Leron Black and Mike LaTulip were both a bucket away from double figures Friday.

But that’s not what impresses Groce the most about the offense.

“The thing that stands out the most to me was our unselfishness,” Groce said. “I just thought we really shared the ball.”

The Illini have 55 assists in their first three games, creating open shots with heavy ball movement.

Shooting 75 percent in the second half Friday, Illinois netted its second straight win of more than 40 points. The team also shot a season-high 56 percent from beyond the arc — increasing that percentage in every game so far this season.

“It was just one of those nights where the shots were falling,” Groce said.

And if Illini shots continue to fall this season, there may be more records to break on the horizon.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.