The Illini (2-0) showed the effects of piecing together a starting lineup early, as Jackson State (0-3) jumped out to an early 8-0 lead on the strength of 3 pointers by Trey Johnson and Julius Young, and extended the lead to as many as 14 points early in the half. The Illini struggled on both ends of the floor early, looking sluggish on defense, and shooting poorly on offense. "We were shocked, then we played scared for a while," said Weber. "Definitely not the start we had scripted. We had no emotion, no energy in stretches. After Monday night, you walk around campus, and everyone tells you how good you are. You have to come mentally ready."
The Illini fought back to tie the game at 34 by halftime, with Warren Carter and Chester Frazier shouldering most of the scoring load as shots finally started to fall, and Jackson State's defense started to foul. Carter had 10 points at halftime, going 6-7 from the free throw line, and Frazier chipped in 9, including a game tying layup as time expired in the half.
"I was scared at halftime. They were all giggly and excited. I was like ‘You're tied with Jackson State, guys!'" said Weber. "If you don't come ready to play…we talked about the first five minutes, and if number 24 hits a couple of those shots, you never know….".
Calvin Brock and Warren Carter must have listened. After going 1-4 from the floor in the first half, Brock went 5-5 in the second half, including 2 3-pointers. Carter took over on the inside, pulling down 10 rebounds in the second half alone, finishing the game with a career-best 16 points and 15 rebounds. The Illini as a team shot a scorching 74% from the field in the second half, and made 5-6 3-pointers over the same time frame.
"Coach said somebody had to step up," said Brock, who set a career high in scoring with 14 points in his first start as an Illini. " they were playing back off the guards. I just had to take ‘em, and make ‘em."
"At the start of the second half, we got it inside," said Weber. "There wasn't much they could do but double down, and then we hit some outside shots."
Chester Frazier also had a career night, setting personal bests in scoring (14 points), rebounding (7, including 2 offensive), and assists (9). The only thing that marred the evening for Frazier were 7 turnovers. "Chester almost had a quadruple double," joked Weber. "But one of the categories is not a good one."
Jackson State was led in scoring by Trey Jackson, who scored 27 points on 9-28 shooting. Jackson was actually held 7.5 points below his season scoring average, which was a gaudy 34.5 points/game, by the defense of Brock. "I saw a lot of double teams, a lot of running and jumping," said Johnson. "They did a real good job of helping, and making sure that none of the other players got open."
"That kid is good, man, " said Weber. "That kinda thows out all the recruiting subscriptions and ratings and all that stuff. You tell me somebody in the Big 10 better than him. Tucker's athletic and can do some things, but that kid can score, he can post, he's like Brandon Roy last year. He got tired, and we could double him, because they didn't have much around him. For Calvin's effort, and Chester's effort, Warren's effort, we all kinda rotated on him and wore him down."
The other impact of a shortened bench for the Illini was significant playing time for the starters. Trent Meacham and Frazier both played all 40 minutes, Brock logged 38, and Carter played 37. "A couple of weeks ago, I was worried about getting them some playing time, and keeping them happy," joked Weber. "I hope they're happy tonight."
The Illini next face Georgia Southern on Friday night at Assembly Hall.