The verse from the New Testament of the Bible, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me" was appropriate, as Meacham stepped up to lead short-handed Illinois to an 85-50 victory over Georgia Southern at Assembly Hall. The Champaign native, who gave up a scholarship at Dayton to walk on at Illinois, scored a career-high 19 points and dished out 4 assists as Illinois got out to an early lead and never looked back. "I've been coming to games here my whole life," said Meacham. "I've dreamed of playing here, and it's a dream come true. I've just got to make the most of it."
Meacham did just that, hitting 3 of 5 three point shots, and added 8 of 10 from the free throw line. He was one of four Illini in double figures, with Calvin Brock adding 17 points, Warren Carter chipped in 12 in only 12 minutes, and Chester Frazier scored 10.
Unlike Wednesday night's game, where Illinois came out sluggish and allowed Jackson State to take an early 14 point lead, the Illini put away the Eagles early. Illinois (3-0) ran out to a 26-8 lead midway through the first half, with Carter scoring 11 of his 12 points in that run. On the defensive end, the Illini forced Georgia Southern (1-2) into 8 turnovers on their first 16 possessions, and stretched the lead out to as many as 23 in the first half before going to the break with a 45-25 cushion. The Illini forced 13 turnovers and outrebounded the Eagles 19-10 in the first half.
"We shot the ball so well early," said head coach Bruce Weber. "We got good ball movement, and Warren stepped up and made some shots. Then Trent and Calvin made some shots. It was a good effort by a lot of people."
"They are a very physical team," said Georgia Southern coach Jeff Price. "They're much more physical than us."
The Illini didn't let up in the second half, going on a 24-10 run to put the game out of reach. Calvin Brock shouldered much of the offensive load, going 3-4 from the field including a pair of three-pointers. The Illini did much of their damage from the free throw line, as they scored 18 points from the charity stripe in a foul-plagued second half. The game officials whistled 27 fouls in the second half, which interrupted the continuity of the game and forced both teams out of their rhythms.
Once again, the Illini played without three players projected as starters in the preseason. Jamar Smith is projected to be out another 3-4 weeks with a high ankle sprain, Brian Randle underwent surgery today for a groin injury, and Rich McBride served the third of a four game suspension for a preseason DUI. The contributions of Brock, Frazier, and Meacham don't surprise Weber. "Calvin has worked at it very hard. If he's squared up, we feel very good about it. Trent we knew was a good shooter. Chester worked at it very hard…if he's got his shoulders squared, he's pretty good."
"I know how good these guys are," said Carter. "I play with these guys every day in practice. I brag about them…..when they're not around."
Carter appeared to be heading for a career night until fouls cut short his evening. "I WAS inspired until I got three fouls….then I was out." joked Carter, who had his father Cedric and brother Kevin in the stands watching.
The Illini, who entered the game shooting just 48% from the free throw line, hit at a season high 76%. The Illini continued their hot shooting from behind the 3-point arc, going 7-15 (47%) for the game, and pushing their season average to 48%. Calvin Brock leads the team in 3 point shooting at 80% (4-5), with Jamar Smith at 63% and Trent Meacham at 50%.
The Illini have 6 players averaging in double figures in scoring after 3 games. Jamar Smith leads the team at 19 ppg, followed by Calvin Brock (12.3), Trent Meacham (11.7), Warren Carter (11.3), Shaun Pruitt (10.7), and Chester Frazier (10.3).
The Illini face Florida A&M next, with game time set for 4PM on Sunday.