Whispers from Illini secret scrimmage vs Xavier

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper breaks down what he heard about Illinois' scrimmage against Xavier on Sunday.

The Illini took on Xavier in a not-so-secret scrimmage on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, which resulted in a 75-68 victory for the Musketeers—according to a source.

Xavier led by as many as 11 in the first half, but the Illini were able to cut it to four at halftime. Illinois took a two-point lead in the second half, but they fell short down the stretch. The Illini shot 45.3 percent on the day compared to Xavier’s 48.3 percent.

Per NCAA rules, programs are not allowed to discuss such arrangements leading up to the scrimmage. Coaches may discuss the details afterwards, but while you wait for John Groce to give his analysis, Illini Inquirer has you covered.

Malcolm Hill stepped up

Hill led all scorers with 20 points on Sunday. The junior forward was 4-for-5 from deep, and he also led the Illini with eight rebounds. Groce is going to put a ton on Hill’s shoulders over the next few weeks, and it sounds like he rose to the occasion against Xavier and NBA-bound wing Trevon Bluiett (15 points).

Mike Thorne continues to score on the block

Thorne was the highlight of the All-In scrimmage last weekend with his low-post scoring, and he did more of the same on Sunday against a talented frontline. Thorne was efficient with 14 points on nine shots in 24 minutes. He also pulled in six boards.

Illini beat down low

While Thorne put up solid numbers, Xavier got the best of the Illini down low. The Musketeers won the points in the paint battle 34-to-26. They also outrebounded Illinois 40-to-25, while pulling in 11 offensive boards. Chris Mack has four players who stand at 6-foot-10, and he got good production out of that rotation.

As for the Illini, it sounds like Hill played a big chunk of minutes at the four. This may come as a surprise to many who thought Michael Finke was in line to be the starter at the position. That being said, the Illini may be better suited for a smaller lineup against North Florida in the opener. Finke had eight points in 13 minutes, however, he did not record a rebound. Maverick Morgan played 14 minutes with two points and two rebounds.

Jaylon Tate looks the part of starting point

Tate may not evolve into a great point guard, but he has what it takes to make plays. That’s what he did on Sunday as he dished out 11 assists with only one turnover. Tate also scored eight points with six of them coming from the free throw line.

Khalid Lewis played 16 minutes with two points and one assist. Tate looked like the starter at the All-In scrimmage, and his stat line in this one solidifies that even more. That has to be one of the most encouraging takeaways for Illini fans.

Freshmen in action

The Illini don’t have a choice but to throw freshmen D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan into the fire early on. Neither had a big impact by the stat sheet, but they did contribute. Williams had four points in 25 minutes, while Jordan had five points in 17 minutes. Meanwhile, Jalen Coleman-Lands was not in action but reports have been good from the practice court. On Friday, Coleman-Lands shot around 75 percent from three on the gun.

Overall takeaway

Groce and his staff will certainly use this scrimmage as a building block and learning opportunity as they prepare for the season opener. This was a great chance for a test run to see what you have. It sounds like the Illini staff was pleased with the effort overall. The team competed and looked cohesive. They had good stretches and bad ones, but they showed they can fight even with key pieces on the sideline.

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