Tuesday night, the Fighting Illini take on the Savannah State Tigers at 7 PM at Assembly Hall. The game, the 5th in 8 days for the Illini, is part of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The exempt tournament consists of eight teams, with four of those teams (Illinois, Miami (OH), Bradley and Rutgers) hosting two games on campus before moving to the new Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates on Friday and Saturday for the final two games. In addition to the Savannah State game, Illinois' victory last Wednesday over Jackson State was part of the tournament.
Savannah State is located in Savannah, Georgia, and competes as an independent in NCAA division I. The Tigers are 5-0 on the season, with victories over Clark Atlanta, Jacksonville, Mercer, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Southeastern.
The leading scorer for the Tigers is guard Javon Randolph, who is averaging just under 20 points/game. The 5-10, 160 lb. senior guard is shooting almost 54% from behind the 3-point line, and is a threat from the free throw line as well, getting nearly 7 attempts/game, and hitting at an 80% clip. Randolph isn't afraid to score on anyone, notching 22 in a loss to eventual national champion Florida last year, and he put up 27 in a loss to Colorado. Savannah State's leading rebounder is Joshua Obiajunwa, who pulls down 10.4 per game. The 6-6, 240 lb. senior is coming off a 17 point-17 rebound performance against Southeastern. Other starters are Joseph Flegler, a 5-9, 165 lb. junior guard, Lazarius Coleman, a 6-8, 200 lb. junior forward, and Chris Linton, a 6-6, 190 lb. sophomore forward.
The Tigers are not a particularly high powered offensive team, averaging only 65 points/game, and they don't take good care of the ball, averaging over 20 turnovers/game in their 5 wins. The tallest player on the roster is seldom-used center Bjorn Bohley from Highland (IL) Community College, who is 6-9. Savannah State will try to out-quick their opponents, and their guards will attempt to penetrate and draw fouls against taller, slower guards.
Savannah State returns all five starters from a dismal 2-28 season, which followed an even more disappointing 0-28 mark in 2004-2005, the first winless season for a Division I program in over a decade. They are led by second-year head coach Horace Broadnax.
The Illini are 4-0, coming off an 84-63 win against Florida A&M. The Illini were led in that game by redshirt sophomore Trent Meacham, who hit a school record-tying eight three pointers and finished with 24 points. The Illini trailed at halftime in that game, the first time they have trailed at the break all season. Calvin Brock (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Chester Frazier (13 points, 10 assists) had double-doubles in that game, while forward Shaun Pruitt just missed joining his teammates by scoring 14 points and pulling down 9 rebounds.
The Illini have 6 players averaging in double figures for the season. Injured sophomore guard Jamar Smith leads the way at 19 points/game, followed by Meacham at 14.8, Brock at 13.8, Pruitt at 11.0, Frazier at 11.0, and senior forward Warren Carter at 10.0.
The game will be aired on the Illini Radio Network, and Internet video will be available on ESPN 360.
Game outlook: Savannah State is fast, but small. Look for Illinois to try to exploit the Tigers inside from the start. Bruce Weber's squad should be able to pound the ball inside on the Tigers over and over again, and I doubt there will be many possessions that don't see inside touches. Savannah State's pair of lightning-quick guards will be a challenge for Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier to cover. The Illini will welcome Rich McBride back to the lineup following his seven-game suspension for DUI in the offseason, and McBride's conditioning will be put to the test. McBride will not start, but will log anywhere from 25-30 minutes.
In the end, Illinois will be too big, too deep, and too strong for Savannah State. Final score: Illinois 87, Savannah State 49.