(MCT) — CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois led by 30 points, but a wayward pass by Myke Henry that sailed over the bench was enough to infuriate coach John Groce.
Groce — an enemy of sloppy play even in a blowout — was the only one who did not appear to have a thoroughly pleasurable evening as he smacked the scorers’ table and stomped his foot a few times.
Illinois breezed to an 89-64 victory against St. Francis for a 2-0 start to the season and a reason for frustrated Illini fans to turn a year-long grimace into a smile.
“It’s been a while,” senior forward Tyler Griffey said. “I feel so much better. It feels good to be out there.”
With a football team reaching the end of a miserable season on a seven-game losing streak, the Illini basketball team is supplying the good news in Champaign.
The cherry on top of Monday’s victory was news that the Illini had received an oral commitment from three-star-rated forward Austin Colbert of New Jersey.
He will sign a letter of intent Wednesday with an acclaimed class that includes wings Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, point guard Jaylon Tate and big man Maverick Morgan.
Illini fans seem pretty pleased with the current roster as well.
They chanted Griffey’s name in the second half as the senior forward led the Illini with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Griffey, who averaged just 10 points per game last season, made 3 of 4 3-pointers before halftime to spark the Illini and was one point away from tying a career high.
“It just comes from practice,” he said. “Getting in the gym by myself. I’m feeling confident. The ball’s coming off well. I’m going to keep shooting it.”
After some early back-and-forth with the aggressive Terriers, the Illini quieted them with a 15-0 run before halftime that left St. Francis scoreless for 7 minutes, 11 seconds.
Point guard Tracy Abrams followed up his stellar performance in the opener by scoring 15 points.
After imploring his team to execute better than in the opening victory against Colgate (39.2 percent), the Illini connected against the Terriers, shooting 49.2 percent from the floor.
Illinois’ competition becomes much stiffer in a hurry as the team travels to Hawaii for a game before playing in the Maui Invitational.
Groce credited the players for not looking ahead to the trip.
“These guys, from a mental standpoint, practiced really well,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”