The Assembly Hall was deathly quiet as the Illinois Fighting Illini clung to just a five-point lead over the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers with a tad over 11 minutes remaining in the second half. But a 13-2 run over the next four minutes squashed any hopes of a shocking upset, as the Illini would roll to a 67-49 victory in its season opener.
Sophomore forward Meyers Leonard led the way for the Illini with 15 points and six blocked shots. Junior guard Brandon Paul added 14 points while junior power forward Tyler Griffey chipped in with 10 points. Walt Gibler led the Ramblers with 19 points.
The Illini scuffled a bit out of the gate, shooting 44 percent from the field in the first half en route to just 28 points. One part of the problem was the three-point shooting, as the Illini made just 4-14 from deep in the opening half. Taking care of the ball was another issue, with the Illini turning it over nine times in the first half.
Luckily, the Illini used a smothering defensive effort to hold the Ramblers to just 18 first half points. Although the Ramblers found their groove during a stretch early in the second half, they were not able to keep up when the Illini made their charge.
Leonard was key in the game’s defining run, scoring six points and bringing the house down with a thunderous fast break dunk.
As expected, Illinois coach Bruce Weber tinkered a bit with his lineups, giving plenty of guys a chance to play. Nine players saw double-digit minutes, including three of the freshmen. One of those freshmen, point guard Tracy Abrams, surprisingly got the start and delivered with eight points and a team-high seven rebounds.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory for the Illini, but a win’s a win and it’s a good way to start the season. Some struggles are to be expected early this year, and at least the Illini didn’t go down to the wire like Duke did against Belmont (a Duke loss to Belmont at Cameron Indoor would have been epic!).
It was nice to see Paul and Leonard take charge. Those two will be instrumental in any type of success the Illini have this season. They have tons of potential, it just remains to be seen if they can fulfill it.
The Illini will take on SIU-Edwardsville on Monday, Dec. 14 at Assembly Hall.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.