NFL: Illini rally to beat UIC at United Center
Trailing Illinois-Chicago at halftime Saturday, Illinois senior guard Joseph Bertrand announced to his teammates he wasn't about to live through another upset at the United Center.
The message resonated and was echoed by someone who had not endured the devastating 2010 loss to the Flames.
"We didn't panic being down 10," said senior Rayvonte Rice, a transfer from Drake. "We just told the team let's get it together."
Rice scored a season-high 28 points, one shy of his career high, to spur the Illini rally for a 74-60 victory. He shot 10 of 16 with seven rebounds and three assists.
Of equal importance, he spent the second half locked on UIC point guard Kelsey Barlow, an assignment that required him to play 36 minutes.
Barlow scorched the Illini for 18 points in the first half on 7 of 12 shooting and helped the Flames (5-9) to a 13-point lead at one point. But when Rice latched onto him after the break, the Purdue hit only 1 of 7 shots for three more points.
"It looks like Rice kind of shut me down," he said.
Asked about Rice's defensive skill set, Illini coach John Groce said, "Size, strength, hands, anticipation, quickness, explosiveness. Want me to keep going? Most importantly his mind. He's a tough dude. … We ask an awful lot of him."
The Illini (11-2) were reminded of UIC's victory three seasons ago in other ways too. Not only was UIC coach Howard Moore wearing the same red jacket, but the Flames shot 62.1 percent in building their halftime bulge.
Illinois, playing its last non-conference game before Indiana visits for their Big Ten opener Tuesday, held UIC to only six more field goals the rest of the game. The Illini outscored the Flames 40-16 after halftime.
Point guard Tracy Abrams added 16 points with four assists and three rebounds, while Bertrand scored 14. Jon Ekey shot 1-for-6, going 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, to finish with only two points.
"It wasn't good to get down like that," Bertrand said. "Every team makes runs. Their run just happened to be when the ball tipped.
"We fought back a little bit in the first half and kept it going in the second half."
Moore told the Flames the Illini would make their own run. They did – 8-0 to start the second half.
"I went into halftime telling my guys we probably played our best half of basketball," he said. "But I also warned them there's going to be a storm in the second half."