Illinois raced out to a 30-point first-half lead and withstood a moderate second-half rally to earn a 73-55 non-conference victory over East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon in Champaign.
Sophomore guard Trent Frazier poured in a game-high 25 points for Illinois (4-7), which owns its first two-game winning streak since Jan. 24-30 of last season. The Illini played without freshmen Ayo Dosunmu and Alan Griffin, who showed up late for the morning shootaround.
Freshman center Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15 points) and junior forward Kipper Nichols (14 points, 8 rebounds) added double-figure scoring while senior guard Aaron Jordan grabbed a career-high-tying 10 rebounds.
ETSU (8-4) received 19 points from freshman guard Daivien Williamson, who came off the bench to hit 8 of 9 from the field. Junior power forward Jeromy Rodriguez, the reigning Southern Conference player of the week who came in averaging 12.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, was limited to 2 points and 7 rebounds as the Buccaneers fell to 0-18 all-time against Big Ten opponents.
East Tennessee State battled just to get to State Farm Center for the game. The Buccaneers’ plane to Chicago was delayed and rerouted and their uniform and gear didn’t make the flight with them. Then their bus to Champaign broke down, which meant they didn’t arrive until 3:30 a.m. — less than 10 hours before tipoff.
Rodriguez’s dunk on ETSU’s first shot gave the Buccaneers a 2-0 lead, but the visitors missed their next 10 shots and didn’t score their next basket until Williamson sank a 3-pointer with 6:59 left in the half.
The Illini took advantage as they bolted out to a 15-4 lead in the opening seven minutes as Nichols scored 8 points early. The lead was extended to 29-5 with 9:24 left in the half when Jordan converted an alley-oop for a layup.
ETSU missed 10 of its first 11 shots and committed 9 turnovers in the opening 12 minutes. The visitors’ ballhandling issues weren’t helped when junior point guard Isaiah Tisdale was ejected with 10:56 left in the first half after he and Illinois sophomore guard Da’Monte Williams became tangled while battling for a loose ball. Tisdale was whistled for a technical and an ejection for hooking Williams with his arm.
The first half ended with Frazier owning just as many points as ETSU. The lefty shooter buried 5 of 7 3-pointers on his way to 18 points and a 43-18 Illinois lead.
ETSU scored the first seven points of the second half to cause Illinois head coach Brad Underwood a bit of indigestion, but Williams and Frazier answered with consecutive 3-pointers.
Oklahoma State transfer Lucas N’Guessan made his debut for ETSU. The 7-foot junior center learned Saturday he had NCAA approval to waive his redshirt year. He posted 6 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
—Field Level Media