The match-up, thought by many to be a close game, did not live up to expectations. The Flames jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Illini went ahead for good, scoring 3 threes and two dunks to grab a 13-4 lead. The taller and stronger Illini team simply out-muscled and overran UIC.
Illinois (8-2) repeated their first half performance against Missouri again Tuesday, as the Illini played solid defense, creating several turnovers, crashing the boards and making crisp passes. Roger Powell was the star of the first half, making several strong moves in the paint on his way to 17 points on the night and collecting 7 rebounds. Luther Head (13 points) hit three quick threes to help Powell get the Illini going
The Illini fast break was running on full power as steals created several opportunities for easy baskets en route to a 44-27 halftime lead. UIC's talented backcourt tandem of Martell Bailey and Cedric Banks were held to 6 points combined, and Bailey, among the nation's leaders in assists had 0 assists in the first half.
"We did a great job defensively," Bruce Weber said after the game. "We shut down Banks and Bailey like we wanted to."
The Illini finished the first half shooting 53% and UIC missed 20 of their first 27 shots culminating in a 29% clip. The lone blemish on the half was the Illini's 12 turnovers.
The second half was much sloppier than the first on both sides. Roger Powell and Dee Brown picked up quick fouls and the Illini committed 5 turnovers and only 2 field goals in the first four minutes. UIC attacked with a 13-5 run to pull within 53-40 with 11:20 left.
Two Richard McBride (9 points) threes and a James Augustine (13 points) hook built the lead back up until the Illini coasted to the end. Dee Brown hit his first field goal of the night at 4:30 left in the game, and finished with only 4 points.
"Dee has been a great leader," Weber said. "He has been trouble making buckets (1-8 tonight), but he has been doing everything else. 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and doing a great job on Martell Bailey. Since Deron's injury, he has looked to become the leader."
The final numbers prove why the Illini coasted in this game. The Illini posted 11 blocked shots, just 3 shy of a school record. They outrebounded the Flames 52-34, led by Brian Randle's 11, and shot 50%. They also tallied 11 steals. However, the Illini did commit 22 turnovers, a number that will have to improve.
"We felt we had a size advantage," Weber said. "But it was a good win against a good team. Turnovers are still a problem though."
UIC was led by Armand Williams with 14 points and Cedric Banks with 9.
Illini guard Deron Williams sat out his third game with his broken jaw. The Illini hope to have him back to play some minutes against Illinois State on Saturday at the Assembly Hall, but Richard McBride and Brian Randle have stepped in and played well in his place.
"We hope we can get Deron in Saturday, but at least the injury is giving Rich and Brian some minutes," Weber said.
Overall, the Illini played an above average game. The turnovers and the fouls were plentiful, but the players did not break. Even when things were not going well, they stuck together and built the lead back up. They deserve credit for going through three tough non-conference games 3-0 without their point guard. The Illini did as well as one could want through the early parts of the schedule especially with the injuries and suspensions.
UIC was no match for the Illini tonight. Their lack of size and strength was no match for the Illini. Martell Bailey and Cedric Banks were nowhere to be found as Head and Brown shut them down. Although the numbers are impressive, cutting down on the turnovers is important.
Putting out the Flames was a solid test tonight. The Illini need to continue the suffocating defense and hot starts, and avoid the second half meltdowns like they had against Mizzou. If they do that, there will be few that can put out their fire.