“I told Ray that he saved Tracy (Abrams), because Tracy took an early shot there with the lead,’’ said Groce as Illinois was holding a 58-48 lead with just under a minute remaining. “You need to tell Tracy that you saved him with that play right there.’’
That was one of the baskets for Illinois (3-0) during a 15-5 run over the final 6 minutes and 39 seconds. Abrams had made a pair of 1-handed floaters during that stretch and Rice had seven of his 18 during that stretch.
“I thought Illinois made some nice plays down the stretch and a couple guys really stepped up for them,’’ said Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew. “Rice can score in a variety of ways. He is a very physical, he can score inside. He is very quick and able to get around guys also. And we’ve seen film where he made a couple 3s, when he does that, he is an extremely tough matchup.’’
The Crusaders (2-1) made things interesting for the Illini with an 8-0 run during the second half as Valparaiso pulled within 49-47 on a 3-pointer by Bobby Capobianco with 6:39 left. That was as close as they would get in the second half.
“I was really proud of my guys for their effort and attitude,’’ Groce said. “I love the fact that we got punched in the mouth with an 8-0 run as they pulled within two and then we went back on a 11-1 run.
“I thought our defense turned it up a notch.’’
Groce compared it to how Illinois played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, beating Colorado in the second round.
“I absolutely loved our effort and energy from 1 to 11,’’ he said. “Even the guys that are sitting out this year, we’re great on the bench.
“I thought we played the right way, even if we didn’t play pretty.’’