CHAMPAIGN — Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce began his professional career as a high school math teacher.
So it should come as no surprise that he saw Sunday’s 83-67 win over Northwood University out of Michigan as a learning experience for his young Illini.
“This will be a great teaching tool,’’ said Groce referring to how his team’s defensive effort slacked off when the Illini went cold from the field, making just 1-of-20 during 14 minute stretch.
“Hopefully, the thing we learn is that when we didn’t shoot the ball very well there for a stretch, that you cannot tie your defensive effort and execution to how well things are going on offense,’’ he added. “That is a step that we will be looking to make.’’
Northwood went from trailing 41-17 with 6 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first half to taking a 48-47 lead on a 3-pointer by Khalid King with 13:25 left in the second half. The Timberwolves had nine of their 17 offensive rebounds during that stretch.
“Like coach said, we were tying our defense to making or missing shots,’’ said Illinois sophomore guard Mike LaTulip, who had 14 points in 14 minutes. “Obviously, we hit a little cold patch there, and I thought we stayed poised a majority of the time, in spite of them coming back from being down 24 points. That’s something that is a positive about our team, the fact that we can show that we were poised throughout situations like those was positive.’’
Rayvonte Rice, a red-shirt junior out of Champaign Centennial, scored 12 of his game-high 16 points during a second-half 21-7 run for the Fighting Illini. Rice sat out the first 11 minutes of Sunday’s game for an undisclosed reason. Groce said it was a coach’s decision.
“Whether I start or not, that is not going to affect my effort in the game,’’ Rice said. “My job is to go out there and compete with my team, and I felt like that’s what we did.’’