Illinois fans may have rooted for Norfolk State during last season's NCAA Tournament, as the No. 15-seeded Spartans knocked off Missouri in the first round. The upset marked only the fifth time a No. 2 seed was defeated in the opening round.
No. 10 Illinois vs. Norfolk State (6-5)
Tuesday, Dec. 11 - Champaign, Ill. - Assembly Hall (16,618)
No Live TV - ESPN3.com
Notes (per Norfolk State sports information):
Spartans Stepping Up: Several players have stepped up their production recently for the Spartans. Rob Johnson (20) and Brandon Goode (16) both recorded career highs in points at South Carolina State, while Malcolm Hawkins (20) did the same in the next game against UMBC. Kris Brown (13) recorded a career high against Morehead State, and Johnson also had a big game, adding career highs of six assists and four steals. Then against St. Francis Brooklyn, Jamel Fuentes topped his career high with 18 points. Brown (12) came up one point short of tying his career high as well but did reach double figures for the second time in his career.
Back From Injury: Pendarvis Williams sat out two games while resting a sore knee and then came back against Savannah State with a vengeance. He added a game-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and hit a pair of treys late in the game to extend NSU's lead to what turned out to be an insurmountable eight-point advantage. He followed that up two games later with 19 points, seven boards and five assists against UMBC.
Fuentes on Fire: Jamel Fuentes handed out 11 assists at Morehead State, the most since Aleek Pauline had 11 at Coppin State on Jan. 31, 2011. Fuentes followed that up with a 10-assist effort against St. Francis Brooklyn. The last time an NSU player had two straight games with 10 or more assists occurred Jan. 25 and 27, 1992, when Marcus Whitfield had 10 in back-to-back games.
Pressure Defense: NSU's pressure defense on Dec. 1 against Savannah State, which consistently double-teamed the Savannah State player with the ball, limited the Tigers to just 17 second half points. It marked the fewest NSU gave up in a half since allowing 12 in the first half against Randolph on Nov. 16, 2011. The last time the Spartans gave up 17 or fewer points in a half against a Division I team was on Feb. 4, 2006, when NSU held Howard to just 17 points in the first half. The 55-45 win marked the fewest combined points since the Spartans suffered a 50-49 loss at Virginia on Dec. 20, 2010. The last time NSU scored just 55 or fewer points in a win occurred on March 10, 2011, when the Spartans defeated Coppin State 55-53. Prior to that, they downed Howard by a 54-52 score on March 3, 2008.
No Halftime Lead? No Problem: The Spartans have had a halftime lead just three times so far this year, all wins for NSU. The Spartans have overcome halftime deficits of five points (Rhode Island), one (St. Francis Brooklyn) and three (Savannah State) this year in their other victories.
That's Offensive: NSU reached the 85-point plateau against St. Francis Brooklyn on Nov. 29. In the previous three seasons, NSU had only topped 85 points in a regulation contest twice, an 86-65 win over Florida A&M on Jan. 10, 2011, and of course the 86-84 victory against Missouri in last year's NCAA tournament.
Limiting Those Turnovers: NSU had a 15-8 assist-turnover ratio against St. Francis Brooklyn on Nov. 29. Since the 2002-03 season, NSU has never posted a 2-1 assist- turnover ratio in a game. The closest the Spartans have come since then include a 15-8 ratio at North Carolina A&T on Jan. 27, 2003, a 19-10 ratio against South Carolina State on Jan. 26, 2008, and a 17-9 ratio against Longwood on Feb. 20, 2012.NSU's eight turnovers marked the fewest since the Spartans had eight in last year's NCAA tournament loss to Florida. The last time the Spartans had less than eight turnovers in a game occurred on Dec. 22, 2008 against UC Irvine, when NSU had seven. Since the 2003-04 season, NSU has had fewer than 10 turnovers in just five games.
Solid Start: Freshman Rashid Gaston proved why the coaches were high on him entering the year, as he tallied his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds at Longwood, leading the Spartans in both categories. Four of his six baskets against the Lancers came after grabbing an offensive board. This, of course, was after posting seven.
Rob Johnson - F, Sr., 6-8, 220 - 10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
Jamel Fuentes - G, Jr., 6-3, 185 - 7.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.8 apg
Pendarvis Williams - G, Jr., 6-6, 195 - 12.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
Brandon Goode - C, Jr., 7-0, 225 - 7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg
Malcolm Hawkins - G, Jr., 6-5, 215 - 12.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg
Off the bench:
Kievyn Lila-St. Rose - G/F, Jr., 6-6, 180 - 3.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Kris Brown - G, Sr., 6-3, 180 - 5.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg
Rashi Gaston - F, Fr., 6-8, 235 - 7.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Series record: First meeting
Groce vs. Norfolk State: 1-0
"You're dealing with a team with some guys that won last year in the NCAA Tournament. They play these types of games all the time, quite frequently. I think they're going to come in and compete. One thing, when we played them two years ago when I was at Ohio is that they will turn you over if you're sloppy with the ball. That gets them out in transition and gets them easy baskets.
"They have the tenth tallest team, height-wise, in America, respective to each position, so they're big and long and athletic. That's why they offensive rebound so well, and they get turnovers and deflections with their size and they live on those easy baskets, whether it's on the glass or on turnovers." -- Illinois coach John Groce
Norfolk State team info: