Smile Politely

Illini with grandma

Holiday sports are dumb. But holiday sports are big business, so no matter what I think there will always be holiday sports. So, when I was presented with covering the Illini on the day my family was celebrating Christmas I knew what to do: Watch the game with grandma and let her do the analyzing.

Of course, I was hoping for a semi-competitive game, but that wasn’t in the cards. Instead, Illinois finished the first half on a 9-minute 30-3 run en route to a 93-45 game. Honestly, the game wasn’t even remotely competitive — Kennesaw State might be (probably is) the worst team on Illinois’s schedule — but here’s a breakdown of the game and what grandma was thinking.

Illinois started the game hot, Rayvonte Rice drove to the basket and converted the and-one 16 seconds in and the Illini ran up a 7-0 lead in the first 2:10. A Nnanna Egwu hook shot elicited some excitement from grandma.

“He needs to shoot that hook more, I think he dribbles too much,” she said.

The lead continued to grow without much resistance from Kennesaw State. Ray Rice stole the show in the early going, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the first eight minutes.

“Wow, the team is really gonna miss him next year, “ grandma chimed in.

With 9:05 to go in the first half Nigel Pruitt hit a 3 for KSU and then Illinois held them scoreless for the next seven-and-a-half minutes. During that time Aaron Cosby got his shot back, hitting a couple of his 5 field goals for the game (13 points), and Kendrick Nunn grabbed a nice steal and finished with a flourish. The whole run was 25-0, part of the 30-3 run to end the half, but grandma wasn’t wholly impressed by the 54-18 score or the 2-11 turnover margin.

“Well, it’ll be a whole different game in Big Ten play on Tuesday.”

It didn’t take long into the second half for grandma to just start feeling bad for Kennesaw State. A jumper by Nunn 2 minutes into the half drew an “Aw, they’re trying so hard.” But she didn’t feel so bad that she wouldn’t laugh at the shot of the KSU coach shaking his head and saying “Why” after a foul.

Kennesaw State hit a 3 shortly into the half but then struggled and watched Illinois’s lead get as high as 50 points with just under 12 minutes to go. As they piled on Maverick Morgan came into the game and also drew some laughs.

“He is goofy, like he hasn’t grown into his body.”

Then Jaylon Tate continued to do great things in nonconference play and stripped a KSU player before hitting Leron Black for a particularly nasty alley-oop.

“That’s just showing off,” grandma said with a laugh before adding, “But Groce might be wise to play Tate more this year.”

It was after the Savage slam that we decided it was time to warm up the car. Nine hours at grandma’s had been great, but we had a warm bed calling our name. Then a Kennesaw player fouled out with 9 minutes to go and we gave our goodbye hugs and hit the road.

Grandma didn’t get to really rant about the Illini, but I think she was happy about the win. Malcolm Hill nearly captured a double-double, with 16 points and 9 boards, but Rice was the real show-stopper. Having Cosby finally shoot better than 10 percent was also impressive. As grandma point out, though, Big Ten play is a different beast, so we’ll see how it goes when Illinois travels to Michigan on Tuesday.

Photos by Mike Granse — USA TODAY Sports.

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