Brother Rube checks in with a detailed breakdown of the Illini hoops exhibition opener…
First, its worth noting that McKendree is trying to break into Div. II basketball this year. They were NAIA (think Millikin) before this season. That being said, take the following with a grain of salt as I’m not sure our Intramural team couldn’t have played straight up against these guys for the most part.
For the first 15 minutes or so McKendree couldn’t miss. Leading most of the first half and knocking down 80%+ of their 3’s going 5-6 or 7-8 in the first half. THEY looked like the home team….at least shooting the ball. They couldn’t miss, they looked like the team that had played games in the Assembly Hall (I refuse to call it the State Farm Center). They had more assists, more rebounds and shot better….much better than the Illini for the first 15 minutes of the game. The Illini looked out of sync, like they had a bunch of guys who’d never played a division 1 basketball game together…..oh wait….that’s exactly what we are this year. We started Abrams at PG, Ekey at the 4, Rice at the 3, Bertrand at the 2 and Egwu at the 5. Started OK with Ekey getting a dunk for our first basket of the season. After that Illinois didn’t make a shot outside of FT’s, layups or dunks until after half time. That is NO exaggeration….we made ZERO jumpshots in the first half….none, nada, zip, zilch….o’fer! Groce substituted liberally and got everyone in the entire game and I believe that everyone got in, in the first half as well as the 2nd. Everyone on the roster played at least 11 minutes (Mike Latulip being that man).
Abrams tweeked an ankle (is fine) and had to go to the bench early and Jaylon Tate entered the game. Later in the half at about the 5-6 minute mark we found our Illini with 4 freshmen (Tate, Nunn, Hill and Colbert) along with Joe B. That’s about the same time the Illini had enough of it. We took a 30-20 deficit at that point and turned in a 27-9 run to go up 47-39 at half. That group looked fast, athletic, aggressive and comfortable playing together. The Illini opened things up in the 2nd half outscoring McKendree 54-39 in the 2nd half for a final of 101-66. In the first half the Illini also missed their first 5 FT’s leaving fans to wonder if they would make anything outside of point blank range. With 49 fouls called the entire game (27 on McKendree) the Illini eventually settled in after missing their first 5 and went 26-33 the rest of the game finishing 26-38 overall.
Jon Ekey was much more solid in this game than he was in the O&B scrimmage. He had our first basket and finished 5-7 from the field and grabbed 6 rebounds while blocking 1 shot officially (I think he had 3 though). He looked much more comfortable, was moving well and we saw some of the athleticism we’d heard about. He went 1-3 from 3 point range. He not only had our first basket (which was also our first dunk), but hit our first 3 pointer which didn’t come until early in the 2nd half. Defensively he has good timing on blocks, but relies on that too much in my opinion. Overall a much better performance for Ekey.
Nnanna Egwu was…well 2-3 inches taller than anyone on the other team. He was faster than most of their guards. Egwu didn’t take many shots going 3-5 from the field. We didn’t see any turnarounds, no jump hooks, no drop steps etc. What we saw were a couple put backs one jumper from about 6 feet and one of only two Illini to go perfect from the FT line at 2-2. Nnanna also had a block and 5 rebounds. He did pick up 3 fouls two of which were 30+ feet away from the basket…I guess he still hasn’t learned. All an all a meh game for Nnanna, not great, but solid. I will say if he plays like this all year it will be a looooong season.
Joe Bertrand still disappears. During the fast and furious final five of the first half he was almost non-existant other than simply not making mistakes. Alliteration aside, Joe played a decent game I suppose. Finished with 8 points on 3-6 from the field and 2-4 from the FT line. He led the team in rebounds with 8 had an assist and 3 blocked shots. At one point in the second half off a missed wide open dunk by Rice who had a full head of steam and simply looked too tired to jump high enough to dunk it, Joe grabbed the rebound without taking a step and elevated up to throw it down two handed. Between that and two VERY sweet driving finger rolls Joe still show flashes of brilliant athleticism….just disappears too much. There were no mid range jumpers, no 3’s from Joe.
Tracy Abrams was decent. After tweeking his ankle in the first half. He’s a bulldog, looks to have a bit more hop this year than last and is ultra confident. As he should be. He led the team in scoring going 4-10 from the field (o’fer from three) and 6-6 from the FT line. TA had 3 rebounds and tied Jaylon Tate for the lead in assists with 3. TA was still fearless driving to the hoop. He could get by his man fairly easily and McKendree had NOBODY in the middle to slow things down. Defense was decent after the first 15 minutes and he seemed to suffer no ill effects from the ankle.
Ray Rice still looks a bit out of shape. Body wise he’s fantastic. Strong, agile deceptive quickness and did I mention strong! But, his wind still seems to be a bit lacking. Rice finished with 13 points on 4-8 shooting and after missing his first 3 FT, went 5-5 to finish 5-8 from the FT line. Most of what you’ve read seems to be true. Ray looks like he can get to the rim and finish whenever he wants. Not a leaper, but big and strong enough to bump guys out of the way and great body control. But again, he looked winded at times to the point that on a wide open fast break he couldn’t get up high enough to dunk it….luckily Joe B. was there!
Jaylon Tate. My first assessment of him after the O&B was pretty spot on. He’s a true PG. He was directing traffic, pushing the ball up the floor and generally running the team. Due to TA’s ankle, Tate had more minutes than everybody with 25. We didn’t seem to lose much with him on the floor. Matter of fact as stated above, he was one of the catalysts to jump start the team at the end of the first half. Finished with 13 points on a very efficient 3-3 FG and hit the only 3 pointer he took. Was 6-8 from the FT line and was tied with TA with 3 assists. He was the only guy NOT to get a rebound. I’m very encouraged by Jaylon. He looked VERY comfortable running with the other freshmen and Joe. He looks even more comfortable when Kendrick Nunn is on the floor. You can tell the two of them have played together for a loooong time. He didn’t turn the ball over much and had what would’ve been the pass of the game to Egwu if he would’ve timed his jump correctly to catch the pass. Jaylon pushes the ball with every opportunity. He will be good in the future.
Mike Latulip missed both 3’s he took had one good drive to the hole and was 1-2 from the FT line. He was low man on the totem pole in minutes with 11. Again he didn’t look as overmatched as last year, but keep in mind the competition. Mike had some DII offers coming out of High School, so these guys were more his speed etc. He doesn’t back down and did pull down 2 rebounds….not a bad night for a walk on!
Malcom Hill. Malcom does things very quietly. You don’t think he’s done much then you look up and he has 8 points 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal…all in 19 minutes. He’s not as athletic as some of the freaks on this team, but he’s steady and as long as he continues to get stronger and keeps improving the sky could be the limit for this kid. Didn’t shoot particularly well last night, but he’s extremely fluid. Think Glenn Rice only not quite that good of a shooter…..yet!
Maverick Morgan was better last night. He was efficient going 3-4 from the field with a couple nice short jumpers. Had 5 rebounds and 3 blocks! He was altering lots of shots as well. Maverick looked better, just as I thought he would not having to chase Nanna all over the floor. Nnanna is a freak with his conditioning and speed for a guy his size, so that should help Maverick for the future, but he can’t keep up with Nnanna….most big guys can’t. All in all a decent game for him he had 1 minute more than Latulip. Did have 3 fouls last night. He’s very strong for an 18 year old kid and given time could do very well in the league.
Kendrick Nunn shot quite a bit for a guy who doesn’t have a very pretty shot! He was 1-5 from 3 which was worst on the team. He did have 4 rebs. 2 assists a block and a steal. He’ll be a stat stuffer. He’s very athletic too and is more than comfortable with Jaylon in the game running the point, not that he wasn’t with TA, but there’s something to be said for playing ball with another guy for 10-12 years! Kendrick’s defense is tenacious. He was one of the catalysts to our first half run and was fun to watch getting up and down the floor.
Austin Colbert may be my new favorite on the team. He has the goofy high top fade (think Acie Earl) with some sort of design carved into the sides of his head. He’s skinny and has looooong legs. But, man does he go. His motor NEVER quits, even when he’s on the bench. He hustles and bangs even with kids who out weigh him by 40+ pounds (McKendree has a kid from Monticello who was a BIG boy!). Austin had 8 points 3 rebounds a block and back to back dunks on possessions in the second half. He’s vocal he plays hard and he’s athletic. The staff is trying to push him to be a 5 which may be OK in small doses simply because he isn’t strong enough yet, but his correct position is the 4. He did shoot and miss badly a 3 pointer, but everyone seemed OK with him shooting it? Maybe it was just nerves. I like this kid and given the opportunity think he could be special maybe the best of the group?!?!?
All in all as I said above it was a slow start, but ended as you’d expect given the competition. I like the fact that the freshmen already seem to play well as a unit together. There was a time in the 2nd half where we had Tate, Nunn, Hill, Colbert (Morgan subbed in some for Colbert) and Latulip in there and that group went on a run just like the other group did in the first half. These freshmen are winners…bottom line. The Simeon boys especially, they work hard and hustle. They (other than Tate and Latulip) may not have the offense down completely yet, but they make up for mistakes with hustle and athleticism. We could put a team of Tate/Abrams, Nunn, Bertrand, Hill and Colbert/Egwu that could conceivably run just about anybody off the floor. Just that much get up and go and stamina. I do think Ray is the best guy on the team and will be the go to guy in crunch time. He just needs to get his endurance up. It almost seems like he hit the weights all summer to lose some pounds and get stronger, but forgot that in basketball there’s LOTS of running. If he’s going to be able to keep up with TA and Tate he’s going to have to bring that along. As for strength we could put a squad of TA, Nunn, Rice, Hill/Colbert and Egwu on the floor and bang with just about anyone too. That might be this teams biggest asset is the flexibility they should be able to play with.