Illinois 95, Lewis 51
CHAMPAIGN - No messing around this time.
Illinois followed up Sunday's half-hearted 82-75 exhibition win over Division-III Wash U with a dominant start-to-finish performance in Friday's victory over Division-II Lewis University.
In its final exhibition tune-up before next Friday's regular season opener against Southeast Missouri State, Illinois never trailed. Six Illini scored in double figures, led by Jalen Coleman-Lands (16 points on 5-for-10 shooting).
The three Illini post players combined for 38 points and 20 rebounds. Maverick Morgan (4-for-5 FG) had 13 points and seven rebounds. Mike Thorne (12 points, four rebounds) shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Michael Finke (4-for-8 FG) added 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Illini shot 58 percent from the field, including 9-for-26 from three (35 percent). Illinois also made 18 of 20 free throws. Lewis shot 31 percent from the field, including 3-for-20 from three.
The Illini out-rebounded Lewis 47-25. But Illinois committed 21 turnovers to the Flyers' 17 turnovers. The Illini assisted on 17 of 34 field goals.
Illinois ran away from Lewis early claiming a 23-9 lead by the 11:27 mark of the first half before taking a 49-22 halftime lead.
Thorne left the game with 15:14 left in the second half with an injury but returned just five minutes later. Illini head coach John Groce said after the game Thorne's quad cramped up.
What it means
Illinois looked synchronized -- which John Groce wanted. The Illini have been fully healthy for about two weeks now and that extra week seems to have created more chemistry. The Illini looked more comfortable in what Groce wants them to do: quick tempo up the court, lots of post touches for an inside-out offense and a tougher, more cohesive defense whose sum must be greater than its parts.
What went right
Illinois dominated in every aspect of the game, including pace and physicality. The Illini front court was dominant -- as they should -- and the only thing that slowed the Illini offense was themselves (turnovers).
Maverick Morgan just might be one of the Illini's best players, and that's not a bad thing. The senior big man definitely looks to be one of the most consistent following his late-season surge last season. Remember, he did average 12.0 points and 5.4 rebounds during his last 12 games last season -- all against Big Ten competition. He's a good Big Ten big man.
Before leaving the court, Mike Thorne was much sharper and assertive than on Sunday when he fouled out and had four turnovers. He tends to run hot and cold, but when he's hot -- look out. Michael Finke is playing his more natural 4 position, but he does look tougher in the post. We'll see how he matches up against better competition.
Jalen Coleman-Lands knocked off some of the rust. After shooting 1-for-6 from three on Sunday, the Illini sophomore sharpshooter shot 3-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Aaron Jordan (2-for-6 three) started his second straight game and played his role well. He took threes with confidence and was active on defense. If he continues to do that, he can help this team.
What went wrong
Illinois played too rushed -- it seemed determined to run a quick tempo -- and too careless with the ball. The Illini also allowed 32 points in the paint, 22 in the second half.
Freshman Te'Jon Lucas (two points) did not check in until the 10:31 mark of the second half but did play the rest of the game. It's a bit of a perplexing move considering the Illinois could use some point-guard depth, given Abrams' health history. Lucas has a higher ceiling than Tate, but it seems he must still earn their trust.
Illinois has a week to prepare for its first regular-season game, an 8 p.m. tipoff next Friday against Southeast Missouri State. Prior to that, Illinois will sign its Class of 2017 on Wednesday. Barring a surprise, it's a four-man class: five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon, top-100 point guard Trent Frazier, four-star guard DaMonte Williams and three-star wing Javon Pickett.