Smith's Career-High 23 Lead Illini

The Illini won their eight-straight game to open the season on Monday night thanks to the sharp shooting of freshman Jamar Smith. Smith scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting (6-for-8 from behind the arc) in the Illini's 75-49 win over Arkansas – Little Rock on Monday evening. Dee Brown notched a career-high in assists on Monday night as he doled out 10 assists.

The Illini started out Monday night's game against Arkansas – Little Rock almost the same way they started out Saturday's Xavier stagnant, and unable to hit a basket. Then, freshman Jamar Smith came into the game, and he started to hit shots. The problem for the first half was that he was the only Illini player really hitting shots. Much like they did on Saturday against Michigan State, the Arkansas – Little Rock Trojans stayed close to the Illini with tenacity, and only trailed by four, 32-28 heading into halftime.

Starting the second half Bruce Weber came out of the gate with a new lineup hoping to jump start the Illini offense. To do this, Weber inserted Smith into the lineup, replacing Rich McBride. This did not automatically jump start the Illini offense, though. The Illini's lead was cut to 41-39 before the Illini offense erupted on a 19-0 run that effectively closed out the Trojans. The run was keyed by 7 of Smith's 23 points, and a beautiful pass from Smith to Randle on an alley-oop that erupted the Orange Krush.

There is no doubt that the Player of the Game for the Fighting Illini was Smith, the freshman shooting guard from Peoria. He scored a career-high 23-points on 8-for-10 shooting, added 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals on the evening. The one aspect of Smith's game that has improved dramatically from the first game of the season is his on the ball defense. As he showed during the Xavier game, Smith now feels comfortable guarding the a ball handler for the other team, and disrupting his dribble. On Monday night, Smith did it all for the Illini offensively, not only did he continue his long-range mastery (6-for-8 from behind the arc), but on a few occasions he passed up an open three point shot to drive to the basket. One of these times led to one of his three assists as he found fellow Peoria-native Brian Randle in traffic, and the other led to a layup in traffic. Hopefully, Jamar can continue to diversify his offensive game as he gets a better feel of the speed of the college game, because he will be a much more dangerous offensive threat if he continues to make these same moves he did on Monday night.

Pace: 62.32
Offensive Efficiency: 120.35
Defensive Efficiency: 78.63
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 50%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 67.57%

While Jamar Smith had a breakthrough game for the Illini on Monday evening, he was not the only player whose contributions need to be mentioned.

First and foremost, Dee Brown may have played his best game running the team this season in the second half (we will try to forget the abomination that was the Illini offensive performance in the first half). Dee finished the game with 10 assists, setting a career-high and many of his passes were picture perfect passes that led his teammate directly into a shot. Two of those that need to be highlighted are his one-handed pass through two defenders to hit James Augustine cutting on the baseline for a slam dunk, and then another pass where he hit James in stride on the break for an easy layup. Once again his shot struggled, but the only time he actually lined up a three point shot, he hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Dee is starting to get a better feel of how the team should be run, as is evident by the second halves of each of the last two games, so hopefully he will now not be as rushed with his jump shots and he will set his feet, and quit taking wild shots from the perimeter.

The other two players who deserve special mention from the Illini tonight are Warren Carter and Brian Randle.

Randle has continued his play since the North Carolina game last week, and likes to fill up the box score. He scored 11 points, pulled down 6 rebounds, dished out 2 assists, and had 1 block. The biggest thing Randle did on Monday night that he was not able to do in the previous two games, play defense without fouling.

After only playing two minutes against Xavier, Warren Carter came into the game on Monday and played very well. He shot the ball well from the perimeter (scoring 11 points), and he was a target for alley-oop passes as he filled the lane rather well. Warren was also very effective on the offensive glass, as he pulled down 3 offensive rebounds in just 13 minutes of play.

  • I will say it again, even though my soapbox is getting pretty lonely, James Augustine needs more than 8 shots in a game. There are times when I am wondering if the Illini guards even look into the post.
  • Rich McBride has struggled shooting in the past two games, but let's not be too reactionary to want to place Jamar Smith in the starting lineup over McBride. McBride has played very well for the Illini in 6 of their 8 games, and his struggles are also coinciding with a hamstring injury.

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