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Illinois guard granted sixth season

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The past two seasons, Tracy Abrams has had to watch from the sideline, his years ended before they started due to major injuries.

He’ll get one more chance at his senior season.

Abrams was granted a sixth year of eligibility and will return to Illinois for the 2016-17 season, it was announced Thursday.

“I am so proud of the perseverance and determination Tracy has displayed through his injuries,” Illinois coach John Groce said in a statement released by the school. “We are looking forward to having him back on the court this season, setting the tone for our team with his leadership, toughness and competitive drive.

“There is no one more deserving of having a healthy and successful senior year than Tracy Abrams.”

Abrams’ issues began in September, 2014, when he tore his ACL ahead of his first planned senior year. He redshirted and was working to return for a fifth season when he ruptured his Achilles last July ahead of what would have been his second attempted senior season.

As a junior in 2013-14, Abrams played 30.1 minutes a game and averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists. The 6-foot-2 guard shot 33.3 percent from the floor.

Abrams, who has earned both undergraduate and master’s degrees at Illinois, gives the Illini experience and a positive story after an offseason mostly of turmoil, most notably the dismissal of guard Kendrick Nunn after he plead guilty to battery charges stemming from an altercation with a woman.

Illinois’ Thorne getting sixth year

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
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Illinois forward Mike Thorne, Jr. was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, it was announced Wednesday.

Thorne’s case was an interesting one because he initially injured himself Nov. 29, tearing a meniscus in his knee, and if he had missed the rest of the season, he would have likely been a slam-dunk to receive a medical hardship waiver. However, The 6-foot-11 Thorne returned to the court on Jan. 19, playing 16 minutes in a loss to Indiana, which many thought might disqualify him from gaining the extra year. He did not appear in a game the rest of the season.

In the end, though, the NCAA is allowing Thorne to return for one final season.

“We are thrilled for Mike,” Illinois coach John Groce said in a statement released by the school. “He endured a lot of adversity last season, suffering the knee injury after a great start and then having lingering complications that prevented him from being able to return to the court.

“Now he will get that chance to come back for a sixth year and finish his college career in the way we all envision. The NCAA deserves a ton of credit in this situation, as they have made a decision that is without question in the best interest of the student-athlete.”

The Illini went 15-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten last year. Thorne averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game before his injury.

Illinois’ Leron Black gets probation for threatening bouncer

Illinois forward Leron Black (12) looks to pass while being guarded by Western Carolina forward Justin Browning (23) during an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)
AP Photo/Robin Scholz
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URBANA, Ill. (AP) Illinois basketball player Leron Black has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault after threatening a bouncer at a campus bar and has been sentenced to a year of probation.

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Thursday plea that Black was a candidate for probation because he took responsibility for the crime and had no prior record. The 20-year-old Black avoided jail time and the felony assault charge he faced after his Feb. 19 arrest.

Coach John Groce suspended Black after the arrest. A team spokesman did not immediately respond to a question about Black’s status.

Black is one of three Illini players arrested this year.

Juniors Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn have both pleaded not guilty to domestic assault charges stemming from separate incidents in March.

Forward Black now out indefinitely for Illinois

Illinois forward Leron Black (12) looks to pass while being guarded by Western Carolina forward Justin Browning (23) during an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois forward Leron Black is now out indefinitely with a meniscus tear he suffered in early October.

Team spokesman Derrick Burson confirmed Black’s status Thursday.

Black had surgery on his right knee on Oct. 9 and has played limited minutes in just a handful of games since his return. He did not play in Illinois’ two most recent games.

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Black was expected to start this season and offer inside scoring, rebounding and defense to a team that is short on all three.

Black is one of three would-be starters out long-term for Illinois (6-5). Point guard Tracy Abrams is out for the season, and coach John Groce has said he isn’t sure if center Mike Thorne Jr. will return.

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.

Wednesday’s Snacks: Providence holds off Illinois, No. 1 UNC wins

Ed Cooley
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Providence 60, Illinois 59

The Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup wasn’t a high-scoring affair, but there was plenty of action in a game that had 11 lead changes with neither team leading by more than seven points. Providence point guard Kris Dunn had a quiet night when compared to his season-opening performance against Harvard, finishing with ten points, eight rebounds and three assists. Illinois was able to use multiple defenses, including a 1-3-1 zone and devoting multiple players to the ball-handler when defending pick and rolls in man-to-man, to keep Dunn in check.

However Friars Ben Bentil (18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists), Rodney Bullock (13 points, six rebounds) and Kyron Cartwright (eight points, six assists) stepped forward, keeping Providence in position to win the game. Illinois had three chances to take the lead in the final seconds but all three missed the mark, including a Michael Finke follow dunk attempt of a Malcolm Hill missed layup. Jalen Coleman-Lands led Illinois offensively with 17 points, with Hill (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Finke (12 points, seven rebounds) also scoring in double figures.

SCORES YOU NEED TO KNOW

Richmond 91, Wake Forest 82: Chris Mooney’s Spiders won the turnover battle decisively, committing just six on the night with Wake Forest finishing with 20. Richmond converted those 20 turnovers into 27 points, and that combined with a balanced scoring effort led by T.J. Cline (19 points, seven rebounds) proved to be the difference. Freshman Bryant Crawford tallied 21 points, five rebounds and six assists for Wake Forest, but he also accounted for seven of the Demon Deacons’ 20 turnovers.

No. 1 North Carolina 78, Wofford 58: The top-ranked Tar Heels moved to 3-0 on the season with a 20-point win over the Terriers, taking control of the game in the second half after leading by just five at the intermission. Joel Berry II continued his solid play with 16 points, four assists and four steals, and Brice Johnson added 16 and 14 rebounds. Johnson and Kennedy Meeks combined to score 30 points (14-for-26 FG) and grab 22 rebounds against the smaller Terriers, who were led offensively by Jaylen Allen’s 15 points.

No. 21 Purdue 96, Incarnate Word 61: A.J. Hammons made his return to the court for Purdue, who didn’t skip a beat in their sound beating of UIW. Hammons played 17 minutes off the bench, racking up eight points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. Isaac Haas led five Purdue players in double figures with 17 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking four shots, and as a team the Boilermakers shot 59.6 percent from the field.

No. 10 Gonzaga 91, Northern Arizona 52: Mark Few’s Bulldogs rolled to a win in their season opener, with forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer leading the way. Sabonis scored 26 points, shooting 12-for-13 from the field, and grabbed seven rebounds with Wiltjer adding 23 points and seven rebounds. If there’s a concern to be taken out of this blowout victory it’s that as a team Gonzaga shot 6-for-23 from beyond the arc. Remove Bryan Alberts’ 3-for-4 night and the percentage is even lower. Given their front court options opponents will look to sag down on Gonzaga and force the guards to beat them, so knocking down shots will be a key for the perimeter rotation moving forward.

STARRED

Isaiah Miles, Saint Joseph’s: with DeAndre Bembry being the focus of opposing defenses other Hawks will need to step forward. That’s happened thus far this season, with Miles going for 24 points and 14 rebounds in an 89-67 win over Buffalo.

Kahlil Felder, Oakland: One of the best guards you seldom hear about nationally, Felder racked up 27 points, four rebounds and 12 assists in the Golden Grizzlies’ 91-81 win over Eastern Michigan.

Isaac Haas, Purdue: 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a blowout win over Incarnate Word.

Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State: Siakam accounted for 30 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the Aggies’ 76-63 win over Tennessee Tech.

STRUGGLED

Darell Combs, IUPUI: Combs did dish out five assists, but he scored just five points on 1-for-11 shooting from the field in the Jaguars’ loss at NC State.

Mike Thorne Jr., Illinois: Thorne struggled with foul trouble Wednesday night and played just 13 minutes as a result, going scoreless before fouling out in the one-point loss at Providence.

NOTABLES

  • Leading by just four at the half, Cincinnati dialed up the pressure on both end of the floor in the second half as they blew out Bowling Green 83-50 on the road. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats outscored the Falcons 48-19 in the second half.
  • Aaron Bacote led five Monarchs in double figures as Old Dominion moved to 3-0 with a 79-48 win over Morgan State.
  • Cat Barber scored 19 points and Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan posted matching lines of 15 points and seven rebounds as NC State beat IUPUI 79-56.
  • Evan Bradds scored 16 points while also accounting for nine rebounds and four assists in Belmont’s 90-85 win over Western Kentucky.
  • Keith Dambrot’s Akron Zips, who have won 20 games or more in each of the last ten seasons, moved to 3-0 with a win at Arkansas. Wednesday was a rough one for the Razorbacks, who missed out on elite in-state product Malik Monk earlier in the day. He’s signed with Kentucky.
  • Arizona State moved to 2-1 on the season with a 91-53 win over Kennesaw State, outscoring the Owls 56-29 in the second half. Obinna Oleka led four Sun Devils in double figures with 19 points.
  • New Mexico continued its solid start to the season with a 75-51 win over Loyola-Chicago. After Elijah Brown scored 31 Sunday night Tim Wiliams was the star Wednesday, posting a line of 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
  • Patrick McCaw scored 24 points and Derrick Jones added 19 as UNLV pulled away down the stretch to beat Southern Utah 84-64 in Las Vegas. Four Runnin’ Rebels managed to score in double figures on the night.