Illinois 104, UIS 69
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois newcomers led the way as Illinois ran away from its sister school UI-Springfield in its lone public exhibition in front of 5,833 fans at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.
Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands, who just this week returned to full team practice after recovering from a stress fracture in his lower left leg, sparked the Illini with 20 points (6-10 FG, 5-for-9 three), while classmate Aaron Jordan added 16 points and seven rebounds.
Fifth-year transfer center Mike Thorne Jr. struggled early but dominated the undersized Prairie Stars in the second half (he scored 14 of 16 points and had five of his seven rebounds in the second half). He also added four blocks. Fifth-year transfer guard Khalid Lewis also added 13 points (5-6 FG, 3-3 threes) and four assists, while junior Malcolm Hill also added 10 points in 26 minutes.
The Illini shot 56 percent from the field, including 11-for-25 from three, and outrebounded UIS 45-34. The Illini struggled early from the free-throw line, making just 5 of its first 15 attempts but ended the game 23-for-38. The referees called 52 fouls.
What it means
The Illini will be a work in progress until starting guard Kendrick Nunn and sophomore forward Leron Black -- who went through a workout before the game but did not play -- return, and this was just added experience for the team's newcomers. The freshmen showed their talent but also their youth, especially on defense (Illinois committed 23 fouls and allowed nine offensive rebounds). This team has the talent to be really good offensively, but they will struggle defensively. That's parly due to skill set, but the focus and desire on that end have to improve.
Star of the game
Jalen Coleman-Lands, guard: The freshman looked healthy, and when he's healthy, he can be really, really good. Some have said he's the best Illini recruit in a decade. You can see why. His skillset (shooting, passing, basketball IQ and defense) shined on Sunday. He's mature and smart. And he has the confident look of a star. It's early, but Coleman-Lands' return is ahuge boost to the team. He came off the bench on Sunday but he'll definitely be on the team's closing unit this season.
Illinois hosts North Florida for Friday's 7 p.m. season opener at the PCCC, a huge early test for the Illini. The Ospreys return four of their five starters from last season's NCAA Tournament team. Groce said earlier this week that Black could be available for Friday's game, which would be another big boost to the Illini.