College Sports

Fighting Illini explode in big victory against McKendree


The McKendree University men’s basketball team wrapped up its 2016-17 exhibition schedule Tuesday night with a 112-65 loss to the University of Illinois at the State Farm Center.

Sophomore guard Nate Michael — whose father Tom played for the Fighting Illini — registered a game-high total of 25 points while adding three assists for the Bearcats, who split their two exhibition games this fall. Ten days earlier, McKendree used a late run to collect a 91-84 win at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The Bearcats will take a 1-0 regular-season record into its next contest Saturday night at the Harry M. Statham Sports Center against Crowley’s Ridge College. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Freshman center Nolan Gerling notched a double-double for McKendree with 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Fighting Illini, while junior guard Justin Blanks came off the bench to net 17 points.

“Obviously we would have liked a better showing, but I was happy to see our guys play hard tonight,” said McKendree head coach Harry Statham in a post-game press conference. “I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight. That’s a good thing, because I’m excited about our season and I think there are some good things ahead. Illinois is a very talented team, they play in a great conference and showed that they are a very good team tonight. I have a lot of respect for (Illinois head coach) John (Groce) and what he is building here. He does a great job and I hope they do well in the Big Ten this year.”

Illinois (3-0) scored the first seven points of the contest on its way to a 12-4 run over the first 4:12 of play. The Fighting Illini quickly pushed their lead to double digits and increased the margin to as many as 29 points before McKendree scored the final five points of the half to trim the deficit to 55-32 at the intermission. Illinois was particularly hot from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes of play, sinking six of its first seven three-points on its way to a 9-for-13 performance in the first half (69.2 percent).

After the teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the second half, Illinois took control by using a 13-1 run to extend its advantage to 78-38 with just over 17 minutes on the clock.

Illinois tied a school record by connected on 16 three-point field goal attempts in the win. Six different players scored in double figures for the Fighting Illini, led by 18 points each from Maverick Morgan and Jalen Coleman-Lands. Tracy Abrams chipped in with 14 points and six assists, while Mike Thorne, Jr., notched a double-double with 10 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds.

Beginning with Saturday’s contest against Crowley’s Ridge, McKendree will play nine of its next 10 games at home. That includes Great Lakes Valley Conference tilts against the University of Southern Indiana on Dec. 1 and Bellarmine University two days later.