CHAMPAIGN – The upside for Illinois is that the team knows it can shake off pesky opponents and win close games.The worry for the Illini is that they have been continually forced into these nerve-wracking positions. Missouri – a far better opponent than Illinois has seen in the last two games – is up next.
Illinois avoided another potential upset Sunday night, beating Eastern Kentucky 66-53 at Assembly Hall.
The Illini let a 12-point second-half lead dwindle to five points at 45-40 with less than 10 minutes to play before using a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 14 points.
The only thing more glaring than coach John Groce's bright orange suit jacket – matching the wardrobe of former coach Lou Henson who was in attendance – was the Illini's turnovers.
They committed 20 turnovers, which the Colonels converted into 17 points. They also struggled from the perimeter, connecting on only 6 of 23 3-pointers.
Guard Brandon Paul led the No. 10 Illini (12-0) with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks, along with five turnovers. Point guard Tracy Abrams added 13 points.
Center Nnanna Egwu put in one of his better performances with seven points and four blocks.
Guard D.J. Richardson handed out a career-high seven assists.
Eastern Kentucky (9-1), which is off to its best start in 66 years, struggled on the boards. Illinois outrebounded the Colonels 42-23.
The Illini also held the Colonels' top two scorers Glenn Cosey and Mike DiNunno to a combined 5 of 26. DiNunno, a Chicago native and a Northern Illinois transfer, shot only 1 of 13 for two points.
Star of the game: Brandon Paul, Illinois, 17 points, 9 rebounds
Bertrand watch: 11 points, 7 rebounds
Up next: Illinois vs. Missouri at St. Louis, 5 p.m. Saturday