(MCT) — CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois coach John Groce warned not to let Joe Bertrand’s soft-spoken manner fool anyone.
“He sometimes can come off like a quiet guy but Joe has big-time energy,” Groce said.
And he knows when to supply it.
Bertrand ripped off his own 10-0 run during a critical span of less than two minutes to help Illinois pull ahead of Georgia Tech and whip the crowd into a frenzy en route to Wednesday night’s 75-62 victory. The No. 22 Illini now have won four straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge games.
“This summer (Groce) had us shooting a lot of 3s,” said Bertrand, who scored 15 points and hit 3 of 4 3-pointers. “Everybody had to make 11,000 or more. That really helped with my shooting. It really helped my confidence.”
The Illini have plenty to feel confident about after an undefeated start.
Bertrand’s hot streak sparked a 21-4 Illini run to end the game.
“A lot of confidence,” Groce said about his feelings toward Bertrand. “He always competes. I very rarely will watch practice film or game film and say Joe’s not playing hard.”
The entire team was on target from the perimeter, making 14 of 28 3-pointers. Illinois, which entered the game leading the nation in 3-pointers per game, was just one shy of tying an Assembly Hall record and two off a single-game team record.
The Illini were better off from the arc than the free throw line, where they hit 7 of 18.
The Illini had trailed by six points in the first half, but cut down on turnovers in the second half (only two of their 14 total) and switched between man-to-man and zone defenses against Georgia Tech (4-2).
Guard Brandon Paul also scored 15 points, while D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey chipped in with 14 apiece.
Kammeon Holsey led Georgia Tech (4-2) with 14 points.
During Bertrand’s tear, Groce turned toward the crowd and demonstrably waved his arms to pump up the 12,224 fans.
“I don’t do that a whole lot,” he said. “I just thought it was a heck of a play and we needed them. That picks our guys up. That makes a huge difference.”
Illinois (8-0) is sure to see its profile rise after the nationally televised victory. The Illini already had garnered attention after winning the Maui Invitational tournament with a title victory against Butler.
Groce said he will quote Will Rogers at the next team meeting to help the Illini keep perspective.
“Even if you’re on the right track if you sit still you’ll get run over,” Groce said. “We want to keep getting better. I’m going to rely on the older guys.”