CHAMPAIGN – Coach John Groce issued a change of plans at the conclusion of the scheduled final third quarter of Monday’s Orange and Blue scrimmage in Assembly Hall.
Mostly happy with his team’s play to that point, Groce added a surprise extra eight-minute period, mostly for conditioning purposes.
“That’s about all we got out of the fourth one was conditioning,” he said.
Click to read the Insider Notes stemming from Monday's scrimmage...
The final eight minutes looked sloppy and were full of turnovers. The poor play near the end, however, didn’t take away from the rest of the evening, where the Orange team, mostly comprised of starters, defeated the Blue squad 55-42.
“I think we for sure competed,” Groce said. “I told them that in the locker room. I loved our energy, and I loved our unselfishness. There were numerous possessions where guys made the extra pass and kept moving it. I told them as long as we give that effort, have great attitude and we’re that unselfish, then we’ll continue to work to get them better.”
D.J. Richardson led all scorers with 18 points. Known for his 3-point shooting capabilities, the senior guard impressed Groce most by getting to the free-throw line 10 times and hitting eight.
“It was because he was attacking the rim,” Groce said. “He’s worked very hard. Him and Coach (Jamall) Walker have worked very hard in the offseason on him attacking.”
Added Richardson: “I’ve just been doing a good job and being more confident with the ball.”
Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu added 14 points and six rebounds, satisfying Groce by running the floor and handling multiple positions.
“I thought he was active, was all over the glass, shot the ball well, kept balls alive, ran well,” Groce said.
Nnanna’s offseason work ethic has been a common topic of conversation since practice began October 12. His positive play Monday resembled the fruits of that labor.
“I can assure you, everything in terms of what happens to him that’s good is well deserved and earned,” Groce said.
The Orange team featured current starters Myke Henry, Egwu, Richarson, Joseph Bertrand and Brandon Paul to start the first quarter. Each of those players played at least 20 minutes for the Orange, but Groce toyed with the lineups throughout the night. Each Orange squad starter, excluding Richardson, spent time with the Blue team.
Sophomore Tracy Abrams, who is still in the mix to start at point guard, started for the Blue, but also logged 16 minutes with the Orange. He finished with five points, four assists and four turnovers.
Abrams, voted a team captain, is behind Paul to start at the lead guard position for one reason.
“Obviously I’m not a rocket scientist but I know at that position you’d like to have a guy with more assists than turnovers,” Groce said.
Groce wasn’t happy with the team’s off-ball screens and the decision-making late in the scrimmage. But all in all the night was a successful workout and a chance for the players to display a new brand of basketball in front of an announced attendance of 4,421.
“It was just a way for us to round into form, play together, make some plays,” Egwu said. “It’s a good feeling to finally be out here playing.”