Illinois Basketball: Illini Win Without Tracy Abrams, Prepare for Season Opener

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2013

Dec 16, 2012; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce talks to guard Tracy Abrams (13) and center Nnanna Egwu (32) and guard D.J. Richardson (1) and forward Tyler Griffey (42) and guard Brandon Paul (3) during the second half against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at Assembly Hall.  Illinois defeated Eastern Kentucky 66-53. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports
Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Back on October 24, the Fighting Illini won their first exhibition, 101-66, over McKendree. On Sunday, the Illini welcomed Northwood (Mich.) to the State Farm Center for their second and final exhibition contest. The Fighting Illini added another win, by the final score of 83-67.

Illinois led the game, 45-34, at halftime, leading by as many as 24 points in the first half. The second half provided a scare, as Northwood took a one-point lead, with over 13 minutes to go, before the Illini came to their senses and defeated their inferior opponent. They still won the second stanza, 38-33.

The Illini next hit the hardwood on Friday evening, hosting Alabama State in their regular-season opener. Two days later, Illinois matches up with Jacksonville State in another home contest. The early-season schedule sets that Illinois should start 5-0, with their first challenge coming November 26 at UNLV.

With a mild hamstring injury, Illinois' starting point guard Tracy Abrams sat during Sunday's affair. Of the other 10 Illini players, all 10 scored in Sunday's game, in a well-balanced effort. Here is a look at how each player performed on an individual basis with analysis below the box score:

Jon Ekey1-51-41-29124
Nnanna Egwu3-50-00-08136
Jaylon Tate2-91-36-743211
Joseph Bertrand3-50-24-660310
Kendrick Nunn3-122-60-01108
Mike Latulip3-73-55-610114
Malcolm Hill2-30-06-673110
Maverick Morgan1-10-00-02112
Rayvonte Rice6-113-41-134116
Austin Colbert1-10-00-00012

In Abrams' absence, freshman point guard Jaylon Tate got the nod to start. Tate's former Simeon teammate, Kendrick Nunn, started beside him at shooting guard, in Rayvonte Rice's place. Similar to the first exhibition, Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu were the Illini's starting frontcourt.

Despite struggling with his shot, Ekey proved he is more athletic than he looks, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds. Egwu was active, pulling in eight boards, which he may average in a breakout junior season. Bertrand was one of four Illini to score in double figures and looks recovered from shoulder surgery.

The freshman backcourt of Nunn and Tate scored 19 points but on only 5-of-21 shooting. Still, Tate appears to be the most ready for college basketball, despite being the lowest-rated of Illinois' five freshman players. 

Malcolm Hill was a bright spot, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds, while connecting on all six of his free-throw attempts. Hill is a pure scorer, who will be asked to provide instant offense off John Groce's bench.

Walkon Mike Latulip continues to impress, scoring 14 points and hitting on three of five long-distance bombs. Latulip is undersized at shooting guard and saw spot minutes a year ago at point guard. His continued improvement could land him a spot in the rotation.

Freshman bigs Morgan and Colbert struggled, combining for only four points and two rebounds. Both have room to improve but will be needed to provide defense and rebounding when Egwu or Ekey go down with foul trouble.

Rayvonte Rice was the spark behind Illinois' second-half surge and finished the game with a team-high 16 points. His improved outside shot appears to be for real, as he made three of four looks from behind the arc. Rice may be Illinois' best all-around player this season and should start at shooting guard.