On a night when Illini players James Augustine and Rich McBride were putting up record numbers, the game itself (an 84-46 blowout over Tennessee-Martin) became secondary. Once the Illini ran out to a 27-1 lead, and held UT-M without a field goal for the first 10:47 of the game, the outcome was never in doubt, and the Illini accomplished their goal of going though the pre-conference schedule undefeated for the second year in a row. The focus switched to individual honors. Junior Rich McBride outscored the Skyhawks all by himself in the first half, knocking down 6-8 3 point shots to notch 18 points, helping the Illini to a 47-15 halftime lead. McBride added another 3 pointer in the second half, giving him seven for the game, a career high, and tied for third best ever by an Illini.
"My teammates did a great job of screening for me and getting me open looks" said McBride. "It was getting late in the shot clock when I made my first one, I came out and made the second one, and my eyes started getting big. Coach told me to keep shooting, so I kept shooting". Illini head coach Bruce Weber commented "It was great for Rich…he hasn't had a real breakout game since that Memphis game. He's been very consistent in all the other phases. He's been a defensive stopper. It was good to see him make some shots."
In the second half, the focus shifted to senior James Augustine. At the 10:51 mark of the second half, James grabbed his 11th rebound of the game, and became the all-time rebounder in Illini history, with 854 in his career. Augustine passed Efrem Winters, who set the previous record of 853 during his career, which spanned the 1983-1986 seasons. Augustine also finished with 19 points on 8 of 9 shooting., which moved him up to 31st on the all-tme Illini scoring list, passing Bill Burwell, Tal Brody, and James Griffin in the process.
"I'm actually glad it's over…I can go into MSU and not worry about the record," commented Augustine. "It feels good, and it's an honor, obviously, to have the rebound (title), but winning the game is more important, and start focusing on Michigan State. The task at hand is more important to me. This will live on forever. I can enjoy it when I graduate and move on in my life, but we have more things to focus on this year, and Michigan State is the next step".
"It was great for James. You know, he's just there every day, he does it without a lot of pizzazz. He's very consistent-a great employee, a great soldier. He doesn't yell or throw elbows or bring attention to him(self). With over half the season left, he can still do a lot more damage. Now I think he needs to have the goal of being a 1000 point-1000 rebound guy," commented Coach Weber.
Aside from the personal accomplishments, the Illini put on an offensive and defensive clinic in the first 20 minutes of the game that quickly removed any question about the outcome. The Illini shot a blistering 63% from the field, dished out 15 assists (led by Dee Brown with 7), forced 15 UT-M turnovers, and held the visitors to 18% shooting. As they have in several games this year, the Illini got out to a very fast start, holding UT-M scoreless over the first 6+ minutes of the game. The Illini quickly shot the Skyhawks out of the zone defense that they started the game with, with McBride nailing 3 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes of the game. The Illini then went to work inside, with James Augustine, Brian Randle, and Shaun Pruitt scoring on a variety of dunks, layups, and short jumpers.
The Skyhawks made a brief run to start the second half, but the Illini quickly put their feet back on UT-M's throat, going on an 8-0 run to push the lead back over 30 points, and after 3's from Jamar Smith, Dee Brown, and the 7th from McBride, the lead hit the 40 point mark with 9:32 to go, and the reserves ran the show from there.
McBride's 21 points led the way for the Illini. Jamar Smith added 11, hitting 3-7 3-pointers in what some might consider an off shooting night for the freshman that the ESPN+ TV commentators have taken to calling "The Microwave". Augustine's 11 rebounds led the team, and redshirt freshman Calvin Brock added 9 (a career high), as did Shaun Pruitt. Dee Brown had a quiet scoring night, adding only 5 points, but he continued to show his dedication to the point guard duties, passing out 10 assists. Freshman Chester Frazier added 8 assists, and continued to pad his impressive assist/turnover ratio by only losing the ball once. For the season, Frazier now sports a gaudy 5.6-1 assist/turnover ratio, by far the best on the team. Brian Randle had a quiet night after what appeared to be a wrist sprain put him on the bench late in the first half, and he did not return until midway through the second half. Rich McBride also made a brief trip to the locker room with Al Martindale, but returned within minutes and was back on the court with no apparent problems.
Like last year, the Illini have completed a perfect pre-conference schedule. "14-0….I would not have predicted that," said Coach Weber. "I think mentally we were hoping for 12-2, maybe 11-3, but we got 14-0. Still, it's not even halfway through. It's just the fist phase of the season."
Now the Illini focus turns to the conference season. Next Thursday night the Michigan State Spartans, the preseason media pick to win the conference, come into Assembly Hall, with both teams knowing that the matchup could provide a clue as to who might have a hand up in the conference race by the time March rolls around. "We'll find out a lot about our team over the next couple of weeks" commented Coach Weber.
Game News and Notes:
1) Mike Tisdale, the 7' junior from Riverton, was in attendance with his family tonight. It is believed that Tisdale either has or will receive a scholarship offer from the staff at some point in the evening, and he is expected to accept the offer. Illiniboard.com will update this story as soon as details break.
2) The Illini now have a 46 game home winning streak against non-conference opponents, the longest such streak in the nation.
3) The Illini held their 3rd opponent of the year scoreless through the first 5 minutes of the game. The other victims of the Illini swarming defense to start a game were Georgetown and Southeast Missouri State.
4) The Illini's 47 points in the first half were their highest first half output this year, while at the same time holdin UT-M to only 4 field goals in the same time frame, a season low for any opponent.
5) The 38 point margin of victory was the largest of the year.
6) This is the 8th time in the modern era that Illinois has finished a non-conference season undefeated.
7) All 11 active players on the roster scored tonight, making it the 4th time this has happened.