Illini Open Season with 90-65 Victory

The Illini started the 2005-2006 basketball season with a win in Champaign on Friday night over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 90-65. The Illini had four starters score in double figures, including James Augustine's double double. South Dakota State's Steve Holdren, a Champaign native, led the way for the Jackrabbits with 28 points.

On Friday night, there were only two familiar faces in the Illini's starting lineup, Dee Brown and James Augustine. During practices this fall, Bruce Weber needed to find the right mix to replace the three departing players he had in his starting lineup for most of his previous two seasons as Illinois' head coach. Before the first game Weber settled on Shaun Pruitt at power forward, Brian Randle at the wing, and Rich McBride at the shooting guard, but there were still questions as to how each of the players would respond in the starting lineup. If Friday night's game is any indication, the answer is simply, "quite well."

From the opening tip (which James Augustine not surprisingly won), Shaun Pruitt and Rich McBride looked comfortable in the game and seemed to play up to the billing that had been given to them out of high school. Pruitt looked comfortable in the Illini offense, both as a scorer (11 points on 5-for-5 shooting), a rebounder (9 rebounds, 3 offensive), and a passer (he had one beautiful assist that led to a James Augustine slam dunk). Rich McBride did something on Friday night that he had not done since high school as well, he took the ball to the basket. In his first two seasons at Illinois, he attempted almost solely three-point shots, and became a one-dimensional player, but last night Rich took the ball to the basket and did not rely on the three-point shot to be the only weapon in his offensive arsenal.

Coming into Friday night's game, South Dakota State had already played two games, and played Kentucky pretty close, thanks to a strong defensive performance. The Jackrabbits switched defense on the Illini often throughout the game going from man-to-man defense, to a zone defense (either a 2-3 or a 3-2 match-up zone), and back to man-to-man. These defensive switches seemed to frustrate the Illini, but once the Illini figured out what defense they were in, the offense started its precision execution again. In the previous two games, South Dakota State had not allowed either of their two opponents to shoot over 40% from the field, but the Illini were able to get through the Jackrabbit defense, create good shot opportunities and shoot 54.4% from the floor, including 47.6% from behind the three point line.

Pace Factor: 78.76
Offensive Efficiency: 114.27
Defensive Efficiency: 82.53
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 44%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 78.38%

Despite the Illini's twenty turnovers, they were able to have a high offensive efficiency. In fact, the Illini were the only team this season to average more than one point per possession against South Dakota State (neither Kentucky nor Northern Colorado were able to). I was surprised at how strong the Illini were defensively on Friday night, even against an opponent like SDS that is just transitioning from Division II to Division I. The Illini forced 21 turnovers from the Jackrabbits, including 9 steals and held South Dakota State to just 37.9% shooting from the floor. Champaign native, Steve Holdren started out the game 4-for-4 and it looked like he enjoyed being in the friendly confines of Assembly Hall, but then the Illini defense bunkered down and he only made 5 of his next 15 shots.

  • I was really excited to get down to Champaign last night to watch the Illini open up the 2005-2006 basketball season, but I think someone did not want me to get to the game. As my friend and I were driving down to Champaign his tire exploded leaving the rubber molecules that make up so many high school tracks inside the tire, and on the ground surrounding it just outside of Tinley Park. Luckily, we were able to put on the donut, and get back to Chicago in time to watch the game from the wonders of his condo, but I still would have preferred to see the game surrounded by the orange clad Illini Nation in Assembly Hall. I guess I will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to witness my first Illini game of the season in person (not counting the exhibition game against Quincy).
  • Kudos to James Augustine for his performance on Friday night. He recorded the 17th double-double of his career with his 18 point and 14 rebound performance. James was tenacious offensively taking the ball to the basket from the perimeter, taking perimeter jump shots, and looking for his shot in the post. He worked well with Shaun Pruitt on the inside offensively, as both players were able to find the other when they were double teamed by the South Dakota State defense. On the glass, James was great. In fact, he was so good, Shaun Pruitt was not able to really rebound the basketball until after James was out of the game, and then he pulled down the majority of his nine rebounds. Performances like this are what Illinois is going to need if they want to challenge for the Big Ten Championship, and beyond.
  • Jamar Smith is going to be a special player by the time his career in Champaign is over. The freshman from Peoria has no fear on the offensive side of the court, and I don't think he has seen a shot that he is afraid to take. He has a quick release, and needs less than a foot to get the shot off, and the 9 points in his first collegiate game is sure to give him some confidence heading into Sunday's game against Texas – Pan American.
  • While it was just one game, I think we are starting to see what the Illini's rotation is going to look like this season. Every one knew, even ESPN, that James Augustine and Dee Brown would be the stars for the Illini this season, but no one was really sure who would step up and take the other roles on the team. Through one game, and the two exhibitions, it looks like Bruce Weber has focused on a starting five that includes Rich McBride, Brian Randle, and Shaun Pruitt along with the two seniors. Coming first off the bench, Weber seems most confident going with Warren Carter replacing either Augustine or Pruitt, and then Jamar Smith and Chester Frazier on the perimeter.
  • Have they made any mention of the decision on CJ Jackson's redshirt status? I don't think I have heard anything, and I did not see any articles on it either leading up to Friday or after Friday night's game, but if the game is any indication it looks like Bruce Weber and CJ Jackson are leaning towards a redshirt for the freshman from Georgia. This is a move I definitely agree with, as I think one year of conditioning and getting into a true basketball shape will be a benefit to the Illini and CJ throughout his basketball career.

    Update: This will teach me to read the articles from before asking dumb questions. In Phil Shaefer's game recap, he quoted Bruce Weber on this very topic: "CJ has decided not to play the first couple of games. We'll see where we stand from there."
  • The Illini have now won 22-straight games inside of Assembly Hall.

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