Chattanooga 81, Illinois 77; FINAL
Chattanooga 79, Illinois 77; 0:49 left
The Mocs have made their last five shots to take the lead. Finke hit a big triple in the corner to keep the Illini breathing. Need to get a stop.
Illinois 70, Chattanooga 68, 4:11 left
Hill is in takeover mode with 21 points, three assists and three steals. But the Mocs aren't going away just yet.
Illinois 65, Chattanooga 60; 7:26 left
Thorne has awakened and he is having himself a good night. The big man has 17 points and eight rebounds to this point. He also had a big block off the backside. Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall thought it was a foul, and he was given a technical. The Illini are showing once again that they are a second-half team, and they have a 33-21 advantage since halftime.
Chattanooga 55, Illinois 53; 11:51 left
Getting stops allows you to make a run - who knew? The Illini have forced eight turnovers so far in the second half. Meanwhile, they have their offense going by shooting 57.1 percent out of the locker room. Lewis has provided an offensive spark, and he hit his first three in the orange and blue. The Illini are on an 20-8 run.
Chattanooga 50, Illinois 44; 15:38 left
There is life in the Prairie Capital Convention Center, and that is largely thanks to Hill stepping up and answering the call. He scored seven straight points and forced back-to-back steals, which pulled the Illini within eight. Morgan then added a tip-in to cap off a 9-0 run.
Chattanooga 39, Illinois 32; HALFTIME
The Illini have trailed at the half in every game so far this season, and this one is no different. On one hand, it is another disappointing start for the Orange and Blue. But at the same time, they have proven to be a better team in the second half. And they should feel fortunate to only be down by seven.
Here are your halftime stats.
FG%: 53.8 (14-26)
3P%: 40.0 (2-5)
FG%: 46.9 (15-32)
3P%: 4-15 (26.7)
Jordan has been big with eight points off the bench, including a pair of threes. Illinois hoped to get a freshman guard going tonight by inserting Coleman-Lands in the starting lineup, but he was scoreless in the first half. Thorne has eight points and four rebounds. Hill has six points, but he also has three turnovers.
The Illini were once again able to limit the opponent's best player, as Jones has just two points in the first 20 minutes. But the Mocs have gotten a handful of easy buckets due to defensive breakdowns. That is a big reason why Illinois is shooting nearly 54 percent from the field and still losing.
Groce has to bring out the fire from his guys to start the second half. He also needs to figure out who is bringing the ball up in the press. Finke joked at Illini Basketball Media Day that he could play point, and he actually brought the ball up a few times at the end of the half. That probably isn't a great idea for the remainder of this game, though. The Illini have to execute against the press to win, and they can help their cause by getting stops and preventing the press from even happening.
Chattanooga 37, Illinois 26; 3:51 left in the 1st half
The Illini have something going offensively. Aaron Jordan hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead to single digits. They have made their last four buckets. But the only way Illinois can sustain the charge is if they get stops. Chattanooga is shooting 52 percent from the field. The Illini are shooting 54.5 percent themselves, but they have eight turnovers and defense has been largely absent.
Groce switched to the 1-3-1 right before the media timeout. The Illini had most of their defensive success against Providence in that set.
Chattanooga 29, Illinois 16; 7:49 left in 1st half
The Illini are getting beat in every aspect. Chattanooga is setting the tone and playing the way they want to play. The pressure is bothering Illinois big-time. Meanwhile, the Mocs are moving the ball around the perimeter in a flash. That's a product of their experience and overall quickness in their backcourt.
Groce needs answers.
Chattanooga 22, Illinois 12; 11:26 left in 1st half
Chattanooga is having a far easier time driving the lane than I did on I-72. At some point, it becomes a mindset for the Illini. And a matter of execution. And a matter of making simple defense look simple.
The press continues to hamper the Illinois attack. They have five turnovers so far. Lewis made a nice weave through the defense on one possession, but Thorne missed the bunny at the rim. He hasn't seemed right since the Illini last left Springfield.
Illinois has found a way to be down double-digits once again. It took only seven minutes for North Dakota State to have a double-digit lead last Sunday. And North Florida led by as many as 17 in the first half in the opener.
Chattanooga 11, Illinois 6; 14:55 left in 1st half
The Illini didn't waste any time showing their struggles on defense. Alex Austin lost Casey Jones on a cut to the basket for the first points of the game. This team has given up far too many easy buckets, leaving announcers to say "how did he get that wide open?"
The fullcourt pressure is also getting to the Illini. They have two turnovers already. This marks the third slow start for the Illini in their first four games.
On the bright side, Illinois responded well after Groce's timeout down 11-2. Hill has four points and he needs to get it going. Maverick Morgan has already subbed in for Thorne.
5 minutes until tipoff
Illinois has started their season 1-2 for the first time since 1998-99. They have not been 1-3 since the 1965-66 season.
The Illini have announced their starting lineup for tonight.
Freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands will make his first career start. He led the way for the Illini with 17 points against Providence, and he was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Worth noting that I am undefeated at predicting Illinois' starting lineup in my previews. Every little win counts.
It won't come easy, but I expect the Illini to get the win tonight. Having Coleman-Lands in the starting lineup, and on the court as much as possible, is key. He is very capable as a ball-handler and he can play a big role in beating the press. I'm sure he'll find a way to scorch the nets as well. I'm looking for Malcolm Hill to have another strong outing, as he'll try to register his third double-double in four games. It'd be great for the Illini to get Mike Thorne and Leron Black back on track as well.
Orange and Blue fans will also look for more of the same out of Michael Finke, who really impressed with his outing off the bench on Wednesday. I have this one as 74-70 Illinois. Sit back and enjoy the action.
25 minutes until tipoff
The Illini will sport some throwback unis tonight against Chattanooga.
If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for the throwbacks. That is why it will take me at least 10 minutes to pick my uniforms when you play me in Madden. Challengers are welcome. Simply put, when you look good, you play good (or well). Unless you're Drake at Big Blue Madness.
Speaking of throwback, I'd like to take it back to the opener against North Florida. I watched the Ospreys take on Louisville today on ESPN3. And yes, I chose to watch that over college football. North Florida kept it interesting in the first half with their success from behind the three-point line. Beau Beech hit a 32-footer at the halftime buzzer to cut Louisville's lead to two.
The second half was a completely different story. North Florida got sloppy, and that mostly came as a product from Louisville's fullcourt pressure. The Ospreys also got killed on the glass (53-22). When all was said and done, the Cardinals strolled away with a 28-point victory.
So what's the difference between losing by double-digits against that team in the season opener and blowing them out of the gym by nearly 30 points? It started with Louisville's ability to defend. They take pride in that area of their game, and they have the length down low and athleticism in the backcourt to cause major problems. The game changes when you go from attacking a defense on their heels to having one that attacks you.
The other glaring difference to me, and Illini fans won't like this, was Quentin Snider at point guard. Snider finished with just nine points, but he also dished out six assists. The former Illini commit has really improved his mid-range jumper, and his ability to score opens things up for everyone else. Snider put pressure on the ball as well, even though North Florida point guard Dallas Moore was still able to post 21 points.
But Moore had to work harder for his shots and he was taken out of his rhythm due to the pressure. Against Tate and Lewis, Moore never had to break stride and he looked like he was filming an instructional video. The Illini are still yearning for that impact point guard, but Te'Jon Lucas is on his way.
40 minutes until tipoff
College basketball has been here for just more than a week and things are already getting crazy. That is one of the qualities we love the most about this great sport, but it can be painful for those on the wrong side of the craziness. The parity in college hoops is at an all-time high, as we've seen a handful of high-major programs take some unexpected losses so far.
Many Illini fans were caught off guard when North Florida put on an offensive clinic and stole a win from the Orange and Blue in the opener. But don't say I didn't tell you they were dangerous. The Illini weren't the only ones to get upset on opening night. Wisconsin looked un-Badger-like and fell to Western Illinois. UCLA lost at home to Monmouth after going to the Sweet Sixteen last year.
It happens, and it happened some more this weekend. Last night, Ohio State dropped one at home against UT-Arlington. Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta admitted at Big Ten media day that this is going to be a rebuilding year in Columbus. But I doubt this is what he had in mind. Enjoy a few cold ones, Buckeyes fans. It's been a tough weekend on the playing field.
Another big surprise came earlier today when No. 1 North Carolina fell against Northern Iowa 71-67. No team is safe.
It goes without saying that the Illini will need to bring it tonight. Chattanooga ruined the party at Georgia during their season opener, and Georgia was an NCAA tournament team last year.
1 hour until tipoff
Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper here...from the couch.
Tried to make it over to Springfield tonight but saw 10 cars in the ditch on I-72 by the time I got to Mahomet. With that in consideration, I decided to head back to Champaign and avoid any Clark Griswold moments. Although, I'll let it be known that I don't drive a station wagon.
D.J. Williams' mom decided to do the same. Safe travels to those giving it a go.
As for the game, the Illini are in for another challenge against a 2-0 Chattanooga squad. The Mocs present problems with their deep and experienced backcourt, and they also like to fullcourt press for 40 minutes. That will put a lot on the shoulders of Khalid Lewis, who will need to handle the bulk of the point guard duties. Malcolm Hill has been playing point as well, but it is not ideal for him to be the primary ball-handler against the press. I break down the matchup with my scouting report, three keys and prediction HERE.
Illinois really could use Jaylon Tate tonight, who has yet to come back since suffering an open dislocation to his right pinky finger in the season opener. John Groce said on Friday that Tate is "day-to-day", and it sounds like he is close to his return. However, that will not come tonight.
It's a cold one - so get in a warm pregame meal, have a blanket within arm's reach and get ready for things to heat up at the Prairie Capital Convention Center at 7:30 p.m. CT.