BY JIM COTTER email@example.com
---- — CHAMPAIGN — The kids are coming of age.
The Illinois Fighting Illini improved to 9-1 on the season with a 72-65 victory over the Big Green of Dartmouth College on Tuesday evening at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
Junior Rayvonte Rice led the Illini in scoring with 13 points, while freshman Malcolm Hill had his best game of the season thus far, scoring 10 points.
Hill, who has steadily improved in every game this season, is finally beginning to find his range, and attributes it to his hard work and dedication.
“Coach just told me that I will find my shot, and after putting up 30,000 shots this past summer, the work is starting to pay dividends,” Hill said.
Rice, who didn’t score his first points on the evening until late in the first half, began to show the form that he has exhibited thus far in the season, finishing the game 6-of-9 from the field, including 1-for-3 from beyond the arc.
The Illini were also paced by Jon Ekey, Nnanna Egwu and Joseph Bertrand, who each scored 11 points.
Egwu, who has been under the weather the past couple of days, didn’t let that affect him, as he grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots to complement his 11 points.
“I didn’t realize that our bench basically consisted of five freshmen, but they are really playing well, and give us some energy when they come in,” Egwu said. “As far as the players on this team, there are no cliques, which make it a very positive environment.”
The Illini had a short turnaround, having defeated Auburn on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta 81-62, and according to head coach John Groce, the short time in between games had no effect whatsoever for their lack of execution down the stretch.
“We’ve been going hard for a few days now, including a couple separate trips to Atlanta, so it will be nice to give the kids a break and get ready to face a great Oregon team on the road this weekend,” Groce said.
Dartmouth connected on four of their last five three point attempts, and didn’t go down without a fight.
“This is the second time in the last three games where we didn’t finish well, but fortunately for us, we were able to sustain their late charge and come away with the victory,” Groce said.
“I thought our bench was really good tonight as well” Groce said of his freshmen. “I thought Malcolm (Hill) and Kendrick (Nunn) gave us good energy coming off the bench”, Groce continued on.
Dartmouth was playing the third of three games in a midwestern swing, and according to Cormier, it appeared to take its toll on the way the Big Green played.
“We just didn’t have the firepower tonight”, Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier said. “I thought we played awful in our first two games of this road trip (losses to Northern Illinois and IPFW), but we had a couple people, particularly freshmen, step up tonight in addition to Connor (Boehm),and Gabas (Maldunas), who each scored a game high 17 points.”
With the loss, Dartmouth falls to 3-4 on the season.
This was the last non-conference home game for the Illini this season, and they will embark on a mini two-game road swing, that will start in Portland, Oregon Saturday with a game against the No.15 Oregon Ducks at the Moda Center (8:00 p.m., ESPN2). The game will also be broadcast locally on WDAN 1490 and WDNL 102.1.
Jim Cotter is a freelance writer for the Commercial-News, and can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org