“Ray is one of those guys that wants to be unselfish. I want him to be aggressive – that’s his role on this team.’’
Rice was one of seven Illinois players making that debuts on Friday night. All seven scored at least two points, six of the seven had a rebound and five of them contributed an assist.
“Tonight, we played all 11 guys. We played all 11 in the first half and all of those guys made contributions,’’ Groce said. “I thought everyone made at least a play or two or more to help us win.”
“It’s going take that mindset of doing it ‘by committee’ for this team to reach its potential.’’
And while the newcomers played roles in the victory, it was the older players that really set the tone for the Illini (1-0).
Egwu, who had just 14 points and 13 rebounds in the exhibition wins for Illinois, recorded his second career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“Honestly, rebounds; I try to make sure that I get double digits in every game,’’ said Egwu about his goals for a game. “In certain situations, they are going to come to you. It will be different every game, but the mindset is get double digits in rebounds for every game.’’
Senior Joseph Bertrand almost had a double-double with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Tracy Abrams had nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
“For us to play consistently, especially here early, our veterans have to be consistent,’’ Groce said. “I thought they practiced that way the last two days and they played that way tonight.
“All in all, I loved our effort. I loved our energy. I loved our togetherness. And I thought until the last eight minutes or so, we played with toughness.’’
The Fighting Illini easily won the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Hornets 52-28 and Illinois had 22 second-chance points to just two for Alabama State (0-1).