CHAMPAIGN – Just by being on the floor, the long and lean Nnanna Egwu can affect a game.
His athleticism and prowess for blocking shots add a dimension to Illinois’ defense that makes it difficult for opposing offenses to come in the post.
With a young roster, Egwu, a junior center, represents dependability and consistency as the anchor in the middle. He did that on Friday by fending off pesky Chicago State, who gave the Illini a bit of a scare in a 77-53 Illini victory at the State Farm Center on Friday.
His contribution wasn’t flashy with six points, nine rebounds and two blocks. This came after Egwu scored exactly 10 points in each of the Illini’s first four games this season and averaged 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
“The more he’s on the floor, the better our defense is, the better our team is in general at both ends,” Illinois coach John Groce said Thursday. “I really like his growth and development.”
Egwu reserved the spotlight for senior transfer Jon Ekey, who provided the highlight-reel moments with two 3-pointers and two thunderous dunks in the second half after Chicago State had cut Illinois’ lead to four.
Part of that development involves playing with an extra 20 points on his 250-pound frame and getting more comfortable with his back to the basket.
Against Chicago State’s 2-3 zone defense, the Illini didn’t look Egwu’s way much when he was posted up on the block. Groce has liked Egwu’s maturation in that part of his game, but doesn’t want Egwu straying too much from the things he already does well, like utilizing his soft touch away from the basket.
Egwu’s defensive prowess helped limit Chicago State’s ability to get the ball inside and forced the Cougars to take 20 of their 45 shots from 3-point range.
Clark Rosenberg (16 points) and Matt Ross (13 points) each hit three, allowing Chicago State to send some anxiety through the arena after they cut Illinois' lead to four with 8 minutes left, but a 12-0 run spurred by Ekey settled any upset stomachs.
Joseph Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice each scored 12 points for the Illini.