UNF 93, Illinois 81
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - North Florida put on a shooting clinic, hitting 17 of 33 three-point attempts in a 93-81 win at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, to give Illinois its first season-opening loss since 1998. Six Ospreys (1-0) hit three-pointers. Dallas Moore dictated the game with 26 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers. Beau Beech poured in 25 points (7-for-8 3FG) for UNF.
Illinois never led and trailed by double figures for most of the game fifth-year senior center Mike Thorne Jr. had 25 points (11-for-20 FG) and 14 rebounds in his Illini debut. Malcolm Hill had a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) but shot 6-for-17 from the field. Freshman Aaron Jordan had 14 points in his Illini debut.
Illinois suffered another key injury as point guard Jaylon Tate left the game in the first half with what looked like a serious finger injury.
What it means
The Illini are in an scary hole with a tough early schedule that includes three teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season. Even if coaches and players knew UNF was a real threat, the fan base isn't happy following a loss to a school they probably didn't know existed until recently. Tate's injury means the Illini are without three starters right now: Tate, Leron Black and Kendrick Nunn -- and that doesn't even include senior captain and point guard Tracy Abrams. Black (knee) is expected to be back soon but was held out after not finishing the Illini's last practice.
What went right
The Illini centers got what they wanted offensively. Thorne Jr. dominated in the post and an unfriendly rim was his only impediment. Junior center Mav Morgan (3-for-3, 6 points in 7 minutes) replaced Michael Finke, who struggled mightily defensively in the first half, off the bench in the second half and provided some offensive life. The Illini offense (45.1 FG%) should be fine.
What went wrong
Illinois is a mess defensively. Without Rice and Abrams, the Illini have no perimeter stopper, they struggled to defend ball screens and struggled in rotations, leaving UNF with too many open looks. Thorne can protect the rim but is a serious defensive downgrade from Nnanna Egwu, who covered up a lot of sins the last few seasons. UNF, a great offensive team, exposed all those flaws. Illinois needs Malcolm Hill to be special, and while he put up a decent box score, he was inefficient. But the Illini one-two punch really missed Black and Nunn because the Illini freshmen -- Aaron Jordan, Jalen Coleman-Lands and D.J. Williams -- were taken to school by UNF's veterans.
The Illini host another NCAA Tournament team, North Dakota State, on Sunday for a 2 p.m. tipoff (ESPN3). The Bison opened the season Friday night at UC-Davis. NDSU went 0-3 against top opponents last year, losing 85-50 to Texas, 87-56 to Iowa and 86-76 to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.