News Local/State

Illini Top Blue Demons 82-73 In Gavitt Games Finale

Illini freshman Mark Smith drives to the basket.

Illini freshman Mark Smith drives to the basket against DePaul's Tre'Darius McCallum (10) and Eli Cain in Illinois' 82-73 win. Rob McColley/Illinois Public Media

The Illini men beat DePaul 82-73 last night in Champaign. Freshman Mark Smith connected on 12-12 free throw attempts and finished with a game-high 21 points.

Kipper NIchols added 16 points, and Aaron Jordan grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds for the Illini.

Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood had special praise for Nichols after the game.

"I mentioned at a press conference that I gave Kipper a hug the other day because he was tremendous," Underwood said. "I can promise you this: he will get a hug tomorrow."

Justin Roberts led DePaul with 19 points and five assists after taking over the point guard position from Devin Gage, who left the game with an ankle injury.

The Blue Demons put together a pair of second half runs, twice rallying within one possession of the Illini. But game-long foul trouble finally extinguished DePaul's comeback hopes. In a game with 59 assessed personal fouls, DePaul's Jaylen Butz and Marin Maric both fouled out while three other Blue Demons finished the game with four fouls.

Bringing Illinois and DePaul together required no planning by either university. Friday's game was the finale of the annual week-long Gavitt Tipoff Games, a recently created made-for-TV event which pits Big East teams against Big Ten teams  After the first Illini vs. Blue Demons match-up in nearly 60 years, DePaul coach Dave Leitao offered a lengthy analysis of why a continued in-state rivalry game would be great for both teams, and why it probably won't happen.

"I think if you ask Brad (Underwood), or if you ask me, it's a great game to play. But at the same time, if he looks at his Big Ten schedule, especially the way it is now, and he's got to play games very early, if you're trying to talk about rivalries, he's got to go play Missouri, which is a must game. And to fit another game like this, it takes some contemplation. It has to have some people sitting down, and if you're going to do that, and I know for us included, then something else has got to give, because I'm not going to play 18 games in the Big East (conference) season, add Illinois, and still play the (same) schedule.

"It doesn't make sense for our kids. It makes sense for the sport. It makes sense for our region. But, we play Notre Dame now. We play Northwestern. And if we play Illinois, and we play UIC, and we play, you know, we could keep going on. Those are emotional games, and when you're playing 18 (conference games) and a conference tournament, Big Ten, Big East, or any league, that's a lot. But I'll be the first one to say this is really good basketball for both programs, and if we're playing it home-and-home, there'd be a lot of interest. It's something that, I'm sure, we'll discuss after tonight."

Illinois is now 3-0 on the season. DePaul drops to 1-2.

Another quick turnaround means the Illini will return to practice today at noon, to prepare for tomorrow's visit from Marshall's Thundering Herd. That game tips at 4 p.m. at State Farm Center.