The Fighting Illini hit 12 3-pointers and shot 61.5 percent
from the floor in a convincing 81-62 win over Auburn on Sunday
at Philips Arena.
Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice, a junior-college transfer, led the
way with 22 points. He has scored in double figures in each of
his first nine games with the Illini.
Guard Tracy Abrams added 17 points, and forward Jon Akey
finished with 14 in the Illini's second game in Atlanta this
week. Illinois squandered a late 12-point lead in a
disappointing loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, then ran into
travel delays returning home in the middle of the week.
It didn't show Sunday. The Illini put Auburn away quickly and
The Illini (8-1) got off to a fast start, carving up Auburn's
man-to-man defense for easy shots around the basket and open
jumpers from outside. Ekey hit two 3-points from the wing and
had a layup as the Illinois jumped out a 20-11 lead at the
midway point of the first half.
"The thing I enjoyed the most was the response from our guys
after Tuesday night," Illinois coach John Groce said. "That was
as good of a start as we've had had in the first half. Tonight,
for the first time, I think both the offensive and defensive
ends were an 'A.' That was the best we've played all year in the
Auburn (4-3) struggled to find a rhythm in its half-court
offense and turned it over nine times in the first half. The
Tigers managed just four points in the final 7:47 of the first
half. Auburn went to the locker room down 41-17 after Abrams
drained the Illini's seventh 3-pointer of the first half at the
"Our shooting in general wasn't very good. We couldn't make
layups. We couldn't make jump shots. We couldn't make anything,"
Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "Give them credit, they made
shots, but when you put any pressure on the opposing team, by
being anemic as we were on offense in the first half, then there
is no pressure on them. We put them in their comfort zone."
The Auburn football team won the SEC championship at the Georgia
Dome on Saturday, but there weren't a lot of War Eagle fans left
over. In fact, Philips Arena was less than half full for the
SEC-Big Ten matchup.
"I think we just came out flat and not with enough energy,"
Auburn freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen said, "In the
second half, we played with more sense of urgency. We have
worked on it practice, but I guess we just have to keep working
Illinois' lead ballooned to 30 early in the second half. The
Tigers, who were picked to finish last in the SEC by the media,
never seriously threatened. Guard KT Harrell led Auburn with 23
points, and Shamsid-Deen added 13 points. Guard Chris Denson,
the team's leading scorer, was held to a season-low eight
Abrams, who along with Akey was battling an illness this week,
led Illinois with seven rebounds and five assists.
"I thought (Abrams) was the guy who sparked everything in the
first half," Groce said. "He understood who the hot hand was and
got them ball. He moved the ball well and really pushed the
pace. I just felt like he had a really good pulse for what was
going on out there."
NOTES: The Illini will play five games at NBA arenas this
season, including a game Saturday against Oregon at the Moda
Center in Portland. ... Illinois plays host to Dartmouth on
Tuesday. ... Auburn returns home to host Clemson on Dec. 19. ...
Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley was in attendance.
... Auburn G Chris Denson entered Sunday's game as the SEC's
leading scorer, averaging 21.8 points per game. ... Illinois
improved to 21-2 in nonconference, regular-season games under
coach John Groce. ... Illinois beat Auburn 81-79 last season at
the United Center in Chicago. ... After turning the ball over
nine times in the first half, the Tigers committed only four
turnovers in the second half.
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