CHAMPAIGN | Heavily favored Illinois cruised to an easy 86-62 win over Jacksonville State on Sunday at State Farm Arena.
The Illini (2-0) were led by senior guard Joseph Bertrand's 20 points and 10 rebounds. Illinois never trailed, jumping out to a 12-1 lead in the first five minutes and holding a commanding 40-27 at the half.
Junior guards Rayvon Rice and Tracy Abrams each chipped in 13 points for Illinois. Rice scored a team-high 22 points on Friday night in his Illini debut against Alabama State, equaling the most points in an Illini debut since Brandon Paul in 2009.
Nnanna Egwu and Jaylon Tate each added 10 points for Illinois. Egwu also blocked five shots, tying his career high. The Illini blocked 11 shots in the game, the most under second-year coach John Groce.
"We worked hard in the paint," Groce said. "But I was a little concerned they outrebounded us (44-37). We need to take a look at our play on the glass. We'll do better."
Bertrand said he's been working on becoming a more aggressive player.
"Coach has been getting on me pretty good, so yeah, I've been working hard at it," he said. "We know we've got pretty much a whole new team this year, but it's the same system and it feels like things are starting to gel for us."
Illinois only turned the ball over five times — all in the first half — and had 14 assists.
"With numbers like that, we were certainly blessed. And Joe (Bertrand) was really locked in for us. A game like this is something we can build on for the future," Groce said.
The Gamecocks (0-2) were led by senior guard Brian Williams, who scored 12. Senior forward D. J. Felder grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Jacksonville State. Sunday's game was only the third game Jacksonville State had played against a Big Ten opponent in school history, losing to Michigan State in 2002 and Nebraska last year.
Felder and junior guard Darion Rackley each scored 10 points for Jacksonville State.
"The way the game started, they really came out and hit us in the mouth," said Jacksonville coach James Green. "They were tougher than we were, physically and mentally. They pretty much did what they wanted to against us all night, with the exception of our rebounding. That was a bright spot."
Illinois started the second half 0 for 6 from the field, including a missed dunk by 6-11 center Nnanna Egwu, before settling down. The Illini did not commit a turnover in the second half and played all 11 available players throughout the game, often substituting three and four at a time.
Jacksonville pulled to within 40-33 at 16:34 of the second half on two three-pointers by Williams, who ended up 2-5 from beyond the stripe.
Illinois shot 52 percent from the field (32-61) while Jacksonville shot only 33 percent (23-70). The Illini also outscored the Gamecocks 40-28 in the paint, led by Egwu's 5-of-8 shooting and some aggressive play inside by Illinois' big men.
Sunday's win marks the 14th straight season the Illini have started the season with at least two straight wins. Illinois has also won 24 straight home games against non-conference opponents, dating back to the NIT tournament in 2010.
Jacksonville travels to Chicago State on Tuesday while Illinois hosts Valparaiso on Wednesday.