News Local/State

Illinois Beats Georgia Southern 80-71 In Men’s Basketball Opener

Aaron Crosby's 3 pointer late helped secure the win for Illinois.

Aaron Crosby's 3-pointer late helped secure the win for Illinois. (Rob McColley)

Georgia Southern gave the Illini men’s basketball team all they could handle Friday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The final score was 80-71 in favor of Illinois, but with under three minutes to go, it was a four point game.

Malcolm Hill made four free throws down the stretch, and Aaron Cosby and Rayvonte Rice connected on consecutive three-pointers to put the game out of reach.

Rice led all scorers with 24 points, and added six rebounds and three assists.

Cosby finished his Illini debut with 16 points after a slow start. He admitted it took a while for Illinois to adjust to Georgia Southern's rotating defensive schemes.

“The first half, I think it bothered us a little bit”, said Cosby. “But second half, we kind of settled down and took care of the ball, and adjusted to the defense.”

Coach John Groce agreed that it was a tale of two halves for the Illini.

“I thought the first half, they were the aggressor”, said Groce. “I thought they set the tone for the game. We’ve got to learn from that. In the second half, we were much different: eight turnovers in the first half, to one in the second half; one offensive rebound in the first half, to eight in the second half; our three-point defense in the first half, versus our three-point defense in the second half, I felt we were a little bit nastier on the ball.”

Jelani Hewitt led the Eagles with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Trent Wiedeman added 17 points and led all rebounders with 9 for Georgia Southern, which won the battle of the boards 41 to 34..

Freshman Michael Finke did not play in the game. And at the post-game news conference, Groce scolded reporters for their curiosity about the Champaign Centennial graduate’s redshirt status.

“Guys, let me coach the kid a little bit”, said Groce. “Let him get through a pre-season practice. Let me play him in a scrimmage in an exhibition game. This isn’t like, snap your fingers, make a decision. It’s a little harder than that. You’ve got to give them an opportunity to be evaluated.”

But then, Groce added that, for now, the plan is to redshirt Finke, meaning he is not scheduled to participate this season. But Groce says Finke is working out diligently, and improving his game at a “rapid rate”.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when”, said Groce. “And the rate that he’s going right now, he could be here earlier then later.”

The Illini return to home action Sunday at 5 PM, versus Coppin State, which lost its season opener Friday night, 107-65 to the University of Oregon at Eugene.