CHAMPAIGN – Jon Ekey scored 16 of his game-high 19 in the second half as the Illinois Fighting Illini improved to 5-0 with a 77-53 victory over the Chicago State Cougars.
Ekey single-handedly fueled a 10-0 run for the Fighting Illini in the second half and he capped it with a spectacular one-handed slam off a missed shot by freshman Jaylon Tate.
“Jon made some plays and some shots that kind of catapulted us,’’ Illinois coach John Groce said.
The Illini went from a four-point lead (55-51) to a 65-51 advantage and it was part of a 22-2 run to end the game.
“It’s great that he did,’’ said Illinois senior Joseph Bertrand. “We definitely needed it.
“The tip dunk was crazy.’’
It’s the second straight 19-point game for Ekey, who came into this season averaging just 6.7 points a game in his three seasons at Illinois State, and his career-high was 22 against North Carolina-Wilmington in his freshman season.
“Different coaches, different systems,’’ said Ekey, when asked why he was doing so much better with the Illini than a year ago with the Redbirds. “I fit into this system a little better.’’
And while his scoring has been important, Ekey is averaging 10.6 points per game after having just two in his season debut, it’s not the only thing the graduate student has provided for the Fighting Illini.
“He’s on pace to have the highest defensive grade out that we’ve had,’’ Groce said. “He’s only been here through June. It’s great and it validates what we are trying to do.’’
Ekey is also one of three Illinois players averaging more than seven rebounds a game.
So did Groce think he was getting this type of player when he recruited him this summer?
“You really don’t know,’’ Groce said. “I knew he was a really good athlete vertically. I knew he was a great guy and he could shoot the cover off the ball.