Three 2 Track Revisited: Georgia Tech

A look back at the keys to track and how the Illini responded to each against Georgia Tech.

CHAMPAIGN - In the build-up to Wednesday's ACC-Big Ten Challenge, IlliniPlaybook provided three keys to track throughout the Illinois-Georgia Tech game.

Here's a look back at those keys and how the Illini handled each...

1. Can the Illini compete on the glass? With a rebounding-driven Georgia Tech team entering the matchup, a major concern centered on if the Illini could hold their own.

What happened: Illinois won the rebounding battle 36-30, pulling down more offensive (10-7) and defensive (26-23) boards.

Doubts about the Illini's rebounding capabilities were based on the lack of boards by big men Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin prior to the Georgia Tech. Entering Wednesday, the top three rebounders on the team were perimeter players – Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Joe Bertrand.

As it turns out, coach John Groce doesn't care – at least not on the record – which players rebound the ball, as long as there isn't a drastic disparity.

The Georgia Tech game offered a test, as the Yellow Jackets feature a roster packed full of size and players adept at rebounding.

Illinois passed the test, led by Paul's seven rebounds. McLaurin added five, while Egwu, Richardson and Abrams had four apiece.

Perhaps this requires non-conventional thinking to understand non-conventional results – rebounding this season, at least at this time, appears to be a true collective effort.

"I thought the rebounding came a long way," Groce said. "If you told me we were going to get 26 rebounds to their seven offensive I would have taken it for sure."

2. How do the youngsters respond? After down performances against Gardner-Webb, would Abrams, Egwu and Henry bounce back in a positive way or let substandard play linger?

What happened: The trio's play against Georgia Tech could be categorized as the good, the so-so and the near-non-existent.

The good: Egwu had six points and four rebounds and held Tech's talented freshman Robert Carter to seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. He also forced a late turnover on an inbounds pass, performing his fan favorite spastic jump tactic on the inbounder and forcing a bad pass.

The so-so: Abrams had his moments – six points and five assists. But then he also had his moments – four turnovers and four missed 3s. He played 25 minutes, so Groce handled the struggles differently than in the GW game, where Abrams saw only 18 minutes.

The near-non-existent: Henry played only two minutes, but he shot four times. Perhaps the staff didn't agree with the aggressive shot selection, as Henry didn't see the floor at all in the second half. It should be noted – Henry hit a 3, so it's not like he didn't contribute.

Maybe the matchups weren't favorable or Tyler Griffey is playing too well to be taken out, but right now Henry isn't getting much run (14 minutes the past two games combined).

3. Live or die on the outskirts? With the 3-point shot comprising 31 percent of all attempts, would Illinois try to balance the scoring looks?

What happened: Nope. Not at all. 50 percent of the Illini's first half shots were 3s. 48 percent of those taken in the second half were, too.

For the game, Illinois shot 50 percent from 3 (14-28), with six players attempting at least two and all six hitting at least one.

This quote from Paul bears repeating: ""We obviously put a lot of work in the offseason. We didn't shoot all those shots on the gun to not come and shoot in here."

For now, the plan is to fire away. In the meantime, Groce is expecting improvement with scoring in the paint.

"I think we'll get better there," he said. "Egwu made a couple moves that showed you kind of flashes that showed you he's starting to get it and become more comfortable. Sam's a physical presence down there, we just need him to finish better.

"I do think it's difficult right now to defend because we have so many weapons. We have four double-digits scorers. We have one guy averaging seven or eight. Different guys make different shots. It's not the same guy all the time time. It's easier said than done to say, ‘hey, shut them down on jump shots.' It's hard. It's hard, especially at the pace we play, but we do want to get better with paint presence not only by posting it and also by driving it."

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