After a long road trip that took the team to Philadelphia, Greensboro, Chicago and New York, the Fighting Illini men's basketball team was finally at home on Thursday night. The friendly confines of the Assembly Hall treated the Illini right, as Illinois defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore 85-43.
Roger Powell was the high scorer for Illinois (5-2) with 19 points on 9 of 11 shooting. High percentage shots were the focus for the Illini, who threw down many basket-rattling slam dunks. Luther Head got into the act with 16 points, including an alley-oop on the first possession of the game.
Maryland-Eastern Shore fell to 0-2 with the loss.
Much maligned after Tuesday night's game against Providence, Illini guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown seemed to get back on track with solid all around games. While Williams' 5 points and Brown's 8 points are not eye-catching numbers, the sophomores did not need to score and were more than happy to set up their teammates. Brown dished out 6 assists and Williams chipped in with 4 more.
Williams left the game in the second half, after being blindsided by a screen at midcourt. Williams was taken off the floor and went to a local hospital for precautionary x-rays on his jaw. After the game, Illinois coach Bruce Weber was unsure if Williams would be ready for Saturday's game against the Memphis Tigers of Conference USA.
"We're hoping Deron just was hit in the face and has a bruise and maybe a black eye," Weber said. "He was totally conscious."
Every Fighting Illini player made a notch in the scoring column in the big win.
In what proved to be one of the dumber moves of the season in college basketball, some of the Maryland-Eastern Shore players walked into the Illini's pregame stretching drills and began to talk trash. Apparently, the only film on Illinois the Hawks had ever seen was the game against Providence and the Hawks were predicting their guards would lead them to a major upset. Dee Brown had other thoughts.
"They were saying 'Y'all are going to give us this game,"' Brown said. "Not too many guys come to Champaign saying things like that."
For Maryland-Eastern Shore, Tee Trotter was the leading scored with 12 points. The roaring Jason McKinnon scored 9 points and hauled in 10 boards for the Hawks.
The Illini get right back on the Assembly Hall court on Saturday night against Memphis at 8:00 PM central time in a game that can be seen on ESPN 2.
Kudos to the Orange Krush on a great performance. I think this was the first game at home that was not played during a break for the students. You could hardly tell because the Krush was in midseason form while harassing UMES big man Jason McKinnon.
After presenting the Fighting Illini soccer team with their Big Ten tournament championship trophy, athletic director Ron Guenther stayed on the floor and stood on the sideline with the team during the performance of Chief Illiniwek.
The Illini looked like they were auditioning for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. I expected to see the players on the bench holding up signs with "10" on them.