Illinois opened up an early lead over Alabama State and didn't look back on their way to a 17 point victory in their season opener.
The Illini played aggressive and slowed down the Hornets, holding them to 34.8% from the field. Alabama State did manage to make 9 of 21 three pointers to keep the game for a complete blowout but weren't capable of hanging with a much quicker and athletic Illini unit. The Illini also took advantage of their size, out rebounding Alabama State 52 to 28.
Leading the Illini in scoring was Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, who scored 22 points. Rice shot 9 of 10 from the free throw line and was 6 of 12 from the field. Rice just missed out on a double double as he brought in 9 rebounds in 26 minutes. Starting center Nnanna Egwu posted a double double in the opener with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while wing Joseph Bertrand posted 14 points and 8 rebounds.
The early lead allowed Groce to empty the bench, giving all of his freshman double digits in the minutes department. The results were hit or miss as the freshmen shot 6 of 16 from the field and committed 6 of the Illini's turnovers. Walk-on sophomore Mike LaTulip scored 6 points off the bench, making half of the Illini's three pointers.
While Illinois had the game out of reach for it's entirety, it wasn't a perfect outing for Groce's squad. The Illini committed 15 turnovers, more than twice the amount committed by Alabama State. The team also struggled mightily from beyond the arc, making only 4 of their 20 attempts. Illinois enjoyed an athletic advantage tonight but playing sloppy and struggling from outside won't cut it in the Big Ten.
Either way, Groce was able to use the game to spread some experience around. The Illini will host Jacksonville State later this weekend on Sunday. The Gamecocks lost their season opener 65-72 at Bradley.