Some random observations relative to Illinois’ 67–49 season-opening victory over Loyola-Chicago:
– Lou Henson used to schedule the Ramblers regularly. During the Alfredrick Hughes era, Loyola beat the Illini once and lost narrowly three times. This latest match-up was only the third between the schools since Illinois’ heartbreaking 83–82 loss in Ken Norman’s senior season.
– Despite a stated desire to run their offense inside-out at the beginning of games this season, the Illini put up a trio of three-pointers immediately after winning the opening tip. D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey, and Brandon Paul all missed. Interestingly, six of the next seven UI shots were attempted from points much closer to the basket. All six were successful.
– Ramblers assistant coach Jason Gardner played point guard on the Arizona team that beat the Illini in that free-throw-littered 2001 Midwest Regional Final.
– Illinois scored zero fast-break points in the first half. There were several transition opportunities that resulted in errant jump shots rather than rushes toward the basket.
– This night’s County Market Grocery Run contestant successfully reached his C Section target within his allotted 30 seconds, thereby winning free groceries. In the history of the County Market Grocery Run, which originated sometime in my childhood, only a handful of the 100-plus contestants I’ve seen have failed to win.
– The Assembly Hall crowd became restless when Loyola moved to within four points of the Illini at 12:00 in the second half (Illinois led by ten at intermission). Paul keyed the pull-away effort with a rebound put-back of his own missed drive, followed by a free throw. He then hit a three to push the lead back to double figures at 9:37. The Ramblers never threatened again.
– Late in the game, an usher asked me to reposition my mobile device at my spot on press row. Beams of light from overhead were bouncing off the phone’s screen and blinding people in C Section.
– Meyers Leonard had a nice game. He led the UI with 15 points and six blocked shots in 25 minutes off the bench. (Freshman Nnanna Egwu got the start over Leonard and totaled six rebounds and three blocks of his own.) But rebounding is still a concern for Leonard. Little Tracy Abrams out-boarded him seven to two.
– Victor Cortez, Creative Director of New Media and Creative Services at the DIA, is a nice guy and a talented artist. He designed Illinois’ brand-new basketball floor, and it looks terrific. Check it out here.
All photos by Rob McColley.