Despite low scoring totals, Tate standing out for Illinois basketball


Illinois’ Jaylon Tate goes up for a lay up  against Brown at State Farm Center on Monday. Even though he hasn’t scored much, Tate has impacted the team in other ways early this season. 

The star of Illinois’ 89-68 win over Brown scored two points.

The team with the nation’s best offense doesn’t really need any more points. Instead, it needs someone to help energize the team on the defensive end, to help administer the ball and keep the team focused.

On Monday, that person was sophomore point guard Jaylon Tate.

“(I want the players to say), ‘I know what my role is, and I’m going to go out and execute it like an NBA All-Star,’” Illinois head coach John Groce said. “Tate did that.”

Tate averaged 1.8 points per game in 12.2 minutes last season, but he has never been relied on for scoring. In high school, Tate played alongside Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, and current Illini Kendrick Nunn, who supplied most of the scoring. Instead, Tate focused on other aspects of the game.

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Groce compared Tate to senior center Nnanna Egwu, one of Groce’s most often praised players.

“He did some things, like Nnanna, that don’t show up on a stat sheet but help your team win,” Groce said.

Tate has never been one for taking glory.

“I just want to do what I can to help the team win,” he said. “Whether I get recognized for it or not, I just want to help the team win.”

Last season, Tate had a strong start with the Illini, seeing a lot of playing time in the nonconference season, but he didn’t play much once Big Ten play began.

Groce said he thinks that will change this year because Tate improved across the board.

“He’s bigger, physically stronger, a little bit tougher mentally,” Groce said. “He understands his role and embraces that.”

Tate said he feels more comfortable this year.

“I’m used to the system now,” Tate said. “I know what the coaches want from me. I know what my teammates want from me. It’s just going out there and playing and taking care of business.”

Groce agrees.

“He knows who he is.”

Illinois has nation’s top offense

The Illini weren’t able to score 100 points in Monday’s win, but 89 points were enough to keep Illinois atop the nation in points per game.

After scoring 31 points in the first half, that title looked doubtful, but a 58-point second half helped the Illini remain atop the nation.

“We’ll keep learning as we get forward, but this is A-to-Z the best shooting team I’ve coached in seven years,” Groce said. “You have six or seven guys who can score in double figures.”

Brown head coach Mike Martin said he thinks the 58 second-half points may be indicative of a season-long trend.

“They’re a type of team with their depth, athleticism and skill they can really wear on you for 40 minutes,” Martin said. “They’ll be a good second-half team.”

Hill emerging as scoring threat

Sophomore Malcolm Hill had 11 points on Monday, marking the fourth time in four games Hill has scored at least 11 points.  Last season, Hill’s season-high was 11 points.

In the offseason, Hill put on weight and worked on his post moves. He looks more comfortable than he did after taking the starting role from senior Jon Ekey late last season.

Johnathan can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @jhett93.