Rayvonte Rice went for 29 points and Illinois’ defense held Indiana without a field goal from the 6:44 mark in regulation until there were just 3.1 seconds left in overtime as the Illini brought home an 83-80 win over the Hoosiers.
Tracy Abrams added 17 points for the Illini while Joseph Bertrand chipped in with 13 points, numbers that aren’t exactly unprecedented given the talent that Illinois has on their perimeter. But they are somewhat surprising, as Indiana has a pretty good defense perimeter.
That’s a good sign for the Illini, as is putting up 83 points for a team that has had some scoring issues.
When do we start asking whether or not this team is legit?
At one point can we legitimately question whether or not this team can finish in the top four in the Big Ten?
There are two things that I want to see.
For starters, Illinois needs to get to the foul line more often. That’s probably the biggest knock on this group and the biggest reason they sit outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. There offense quite often devolves into Rice or Abrams going 1-on-1, and both of those guys have a habit of pulling up for a jumper instead of getting all the way to the rim.
The other issue is on the interior. Noah Vonleh had 16 points and nine boards today despite spending much of the afternoon in foul trouble. Nnanna Egwu and Jon Ekey are both capable of stretching the floor, which makes them a valuable weapon for a team that relies on penetration from the perimeter. But they are going to score a lot of point with their back-to-the-basket and they could end up struggling against some of the better bigs in the league.
Illinois started off Big Ten play the right way, winning their last two non-conference games before beating Indiana today.
But one possessions wins over the likes of UNLV, Missouri and Indiana are not exactly overly impressive wins.
The Illini head to Wisconsin January 8th. Let’s see what happens then.