The Illini relaxed and showed off their skill and depth against a young and outclassed Chicago State team. Illinois coach Bruce Weber was pleased with the overall effort against a team his players expected to defeat easily.
"The thing I was most positive about, I asked them to play well and play hard. It's a tough game. They know they were 0-5 and struggled. I think our guys responded well. The other part of it was I got a chance to play some young guys; hopefully they got some confidence."
Chicago State second year coach Tracy Dildy is trying to build a down program from scratch. He was impressed with the Illini.
"When you come and play a Big 10 team, it is clearly totally different levels. That team that we played against is a really good young team. They're a really deep young team, and their future's bright. Everybody knows that is a real coached team, so we had all those things going against us."
"I've watched those guys develop over the years, being a Chicago guy. The development from August to now is a major improvement.
"When you talk about Henry, Shaw and Abrams, I've always watched those guys and been friends with them. To see their improvement just from the summer, they have made a major jump. They're gonna be special and have great careers here like a lot of other Chicago guys that came before them."
The Illini jumped out to a quick lead and continued to expand it. They hit 10 points in a row and 6 in a row in the first ten minutes. Another 14-0 run gave the Illini a 40-17 lead, and the route was on. Weber was able to insert Crandall Head, Myke Henry and Ibby Djimde early to give them needed experience.
The Illini put five players in double figures. Henry led a balanced attack with 14 points, by far his best game as an Illini. He also had three rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes. Meyers Leonard, D.J. Richardson and Nnanna Egwu each added 11 points, and Tyler Griffey had ten, including 8 of the first 13 to help the Illini to a quick start.
Henry was shy when asked how it felt to contribute after missing a couple games with an injury.
"It felt good. It boosted my confidence."
He admitted he needed time upon arriving on campus.
"It was hard coming in. We thought we were in shape, but then we weren't. So we had to work hard just to get in shape. Once we started to get a feel for it, we started to get better and better."
Weber plans to play Henry at both the three and four. He likes Henry's potential.
"Myke has no fear. He shot the ball six seconds into the game. He just calmly went up and sank a basket. He has an amazing knack to score. The big thing is he hasn't practiced due to multiple injuries. This was good for him, a positive step. I think he has a very good future."
The assist-to-turnover ratio was an impressive 25:11. Crandall Head led the Illini with six assists and just two turnovers in 20 minutes. Richardson and Abrams each had five assists. Shaw led all UI rebounders with 6 while adding seven points. The Illini won the battle of the boards 34-28 and hit 56.5% of their shots.
Head can help the team, as long as he does what Weber wants him to do.
"I challenged him to play the game the right way. Take care of the ball, be solid, stay with your man on defense. He can make spectacular plays.
"Somehow he's got to figure out how to do things the right way every day. Going to class, being on time coming to basketball, taking care of the basketball. If he can do that, he gives us another option. I'm not sure he's a point, but he can do some things a point can do. We can rotate a lot of different people."
The Illini moved the ball and found plenty of open shots in the Chicago State zone. Maryland and Gonzaga, the next two opponents, play zones as well. Richardson says the success today will help them next week.
"We played pretty good versus zone. Getting 90 points on a zone is a success. We moved the ball, and we made shots. We got the ball to the middle. Our four guys in the middle did a good job passing it back out after they got it. That's what we need to do with better teams."
The Illini face their first road test at Maryland Tuesday. Gonzaga visits the Assembly Hall Saturday.