BY JIM COTTER
Although the 2012-13 Illinois basketball season is just two games old, there are already signs that things are changing, and in this case, change is good.
Tyler Griffey scored 17 points and paced four Illinois players in double figures as the Fighting Illini rolled past the Terriers of St. Francis College of Brooklyn, New York 89-64 on Monday evening at the Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Griffey, who missed a career high by just one point, looks much more confident out there this season than he has for most of his Illinois career.
“I felt really good out there, and I am just trying to enjoy my final season here at Illinois,” Griffey said of his performance after the game.
Illinois took care of the ball much better in this game than they did in the season opener, only committing eight turnovers on the night.
The Illini struggled early with the Terriers, but soon broke away, racing out to a 45-25 advantage at the half.
“We have a chance to get better, and are taking this one day at a time, one game at a time,” Groce said of his team’s effort. “Our transition defense and three-point defense was also better tonight.”
Tracy Abrams added 15 for the Illini, while Brandon Paul and Nnanna Egwu scored 14 and 10 points, respectively. The Illini were once again visible from beyond the arc, as they connected on 11 of 25 shots from three-point range.
Egwu also missed a career high by a single point, and still seems to be moving up and down the floor very well for a big man.
Abrams, who seems to be coming into his own as the primary point guard of the team, seems to be more confident in his shot selection.
“I feel more at ease shooting the ball this year, and it’s a fun game. I do think it is a different level of fun this season, but you just have to enjoy it,” Abrams said.
Mike LaTulip, a preferred walk-on, gave the Illini a couple of spurts offensively, and finished the game with 7 points. Devin Langford, who redshirted last season, played 10 minutes, and scored 3 points.
“I wanted to get Devin in the ballgame in the first half, and Mike (LaTulip) gave us a spark, and that’s good, because we will need both of those players in our upcoming road swing to Hawaii,” Groce said.
“I thought they (Illinois) were really on their game tonight, and felt that we were two or three steps behind them all night,” St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said. “I watched their two exhibition games and the season opener against Colgate, and they improved each time. They are getting much better as a team.”
The Illini shot nearly 50 percent for the game from the field, which is an encouraging sign for Groce.
“Overall, I was pleased with the shot selection tonight, although there were a couple of shots that should have gone in, but didn’t,” Groce said of the Illini’s shooting on the evening.
One key stat that Groce always looks at is how his team comes out of timeouts.
“I thought we did a really good job on the ATO’s (After Time Outs) tonight,” Groce said of the Illini’s focus.
The Illini moves to 2-0, while St. Francis falls to 1-1. The Terriers were led in scoring by Akeem Johnson, who had 13 points.
The Illini will be on the road for the first time this season, as the team heads to Hawaii for the first of four games.
The Illini will play Hawaii on Friday evening in Honolulu, before heading to Maui to play in the EA Sports Maui Invitational early next week. The game against Hawaii, which is slated for an 11:30 p.m. central time tip, will not be televised, but the game will be on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.