Illinois played its first game in four years without James Augustine and Dee Brown in the lineup, and they went out in front of the Assembly Hall crowd and did just what they were expected to do: win. Bruce Weber’s Illini had a different look on Monday night, but as the team’s slogan states this year: Winning is a Habit in Champaign, IL. The Illini led by Jamar Smith and Shaun Pruitt welcomed Austin Peay into a sold out Assembly Hall, and just manhandled them.
The Governors probably didn’t know what hit them, but it was Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini. The Illini jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead thanks to a Brian Randle three pointer, a Warren Carter lay-up, and then a Shaun Pruitt lay-up, and they never looked back. The Illini scored at will against the Governors, and their defense smothered them all night.
The star of the night for the Fighting Illini was sophomore shooting guard Jamar Smith. Smith, who struggled during the exhibition season (shooting just 5-for-19 from the floor), exploded on Monday night for 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 5-for-8 from behind the three point line in just 21 minutes of playing time. Early in the second half, Smith took a nasty fall and injured his ankle, and he did not play again. After the game Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber updated Smith’s status by stating it is a sprained ankle, and they will x-ray it tomorrow as a precautionary measure.
With Rich McBride out for three more games while he serves his suspension for driving under the influence, and Brian Randle already nursing a sore groin, another injury is not what the Illini need. It was obvious on Monday night that the Illini did not need Brian Randle, but it would have been nice for him to see more action than the nine minutes he played. In the nine minutes that he played, Randle scored seven points, including making the only three point shot he took.
The only other Illinois player that scored in double figures was Shaun Pruitt. The junior center scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting. While the scoring numbers were good for Pruitt, he only pulled down three rebounds on the night, and his free throw shooting was extremely poor (3-of-7 from the line). For the Illini to rely on Pruitt as a scorer in the post, he will need to improve his free throw shooting because if he doesn’t teams will start to employ the Hack-A-Pruitt defense to slow down the Illini center.
In his first official game as Illinois’ starting point guard, sophomore Chester Frazier performed admirably, but he turned the ball over way too much. It is known that the Illini coaching staff loves the intensity that Frazier brings to the court, but on Monday night, he was playing out of control. He did hand out eight assists, but he also committed six turnovers, a number that cannot be repeated against better teams if the Illini want to come out on top against tougher opponents. In the exhibition season Frazier showed improvement on his jump shot from last season, but in the Illini’s first real game, the missed shots showed up again for the sophomore point guard. Frazier shot 1-for-5 from the floor, and was 5-for-10 from the free throw line.
Bruce Weber stated that he spent the first month of practices teaching this team how to play defense. I have a feeling Austin Peay wished he would have spent a little more time teaching the Illini offense, since the Governors were not even able to get a shot off without an Illini defender in their face.
Illini Defensive Stats:
Opponent’s Field Goal Percentage: 27.7% (13-47)
Opponent’s Three Point Percentage: 16.7% (3-18)
Opponent’s Points per Possession: 0.51 (The Governors scored about once every four times down the court for the whole game)
Opponent’s Turnovers: 25 (Austin Peay turned the ball over on 36.3% of their possessions on Monday night)
- Neither of Illinois’ freshmen this year, Brian Carlwell and Richard Semrau, will be wearing Loren Tate’s favorite shirt, the redshirt. Both freshmen saw over ten minutes of action on Monday night. Carlwell scored five points and pulled down six rebounds, while Semrau scored three points and pulled down five rebounds.
- Don’t be surprised if the Illini’s Achilles’ Heel this season is free throw shooting. While Jamar Smith, Trent Meacham, and Rich McBride are great free throw shooters, no one else on the Illinois roster right now has shown to be what someone would call good free throw shooters. Chester Frazier’s inability to make them from the charity stripe could have him sitting next to Bruce Weber at the end of close games instead of on the court leading the Illini as their point guard.
- This was the third meeting all-time between the Illini and the Governors, and the Illini are now 2-1 against Austin Peay with a combine margin of victory of 72. Of course, the two butt kickings that the Illini have placed on Austin Peay will never remove the sting of the Governors upsetting the Illini in the first round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament.