CHAMPAIGN — Illinois Jon Ekey started and ended the first half with a 3-pointer, but that wasn’t his biggest contribution on Wednesday night.
The fifth-year senior pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds — including eight offensive rebounds, but again that wasn’t his biggest contribution for the Fighting Illini.
So what did Illinois coach John Groce think was Ekey’s biggest contribution in the 64-52 win over Valparaiso before 13,504 at the State Farm Center?
It was everything that he did for the Fighting Illini.
“He does a lot of things that show up on the stat sheet, obviously when you see that 15,’’ said Groce, noting that Ekey’s 15 rebounds is the most for an Illinois player in the past two seasons. “But, he does a lot of things that don’t. It’s very reminiscent of (Sam) McLaurin for the intangible perspective.
“I’m so thankful that we have him.’’
And what exactly does the transfer from Illinois State bring to this year’s Fighting Illini squad?
“I played him at the 3-4-5 positions within the 40 minutes. He can switch up ball screen coverages — being able to think and adjust,’’ Groce said. “Obviously he is a really good shooter. We will continue to see it moving forward, he hasn’t even shot the ball like he has shot it in practice. I have an unbelievable confidence in his ability to make shots, and the decisions he makes.
“He takes care of the ball. He knows our defensive schemes inside and out. He gets extra rebounds for our team, gets us extra possessions.’’
And while Ekey wasn’t able to finish any of his offensive rebounds into points, Illinois turned 18 offensive rebounds in 11 second-chance points, including a pair of slam dunk tip-ins from Rayvonte Rice, who had a game-high 18 points, and Joseph Bertrand, who had 14 points.