But the second-year coach of the Fighting Illini was quick to point out that this was just one game.
“They should enjoy this one... but it’s not like the toughness is automatically there again,’’ he said. “That’s a choice we make every day between our eyes, whether we are going to be mentally and physically tough. Today, we made that choice. Hopefully, we will continue to make that choice.’’
Making that choice on Sunday was evident in the defense played by the Fighting Illini against the Braves and their high-scoring guard Walt Lemon Jr., who finished with 12 points, but he was 4-of-15 from the field and half of his points came in the final minutes.
“The coaches prepared a great game plan for us,’’ said Illinois junior guard Tracy Abrams, who shouldered most of the responsibility on Lemon Jr. “Guys were aggressive on him. Obviously, he is a good player, but we just stuck to our game plan.’’
Abrams, who had 12 points including a pair of 3-pointers early in the second half, was also the team’s leading rebounder with eight.
“Every day, coach challenges us to rebound, go in there and dig some out,’’ Abrams said. “Today, we exemplified that pretty well. It’s something we have to keep doing.’’
Actually, all five Illinois starters had at least five rebounds and the Illini guards finished with 28 — three more than the entire Bradley team.
“That was embarrassing,” Ford said. “I give Illinois a lot of credit. They were tough and we were soft.’’
Another area where Illinois was at its best against Bradley was with its ball movement. The Fighting Illini had a season-high 19 assists as freshman Jaylon Tate came off the bench to dish out a game-high six and Rice, who had 13 points, added five helpers to the cause.