The Fighting Illini set the tone right out of the gate in the season opener against North Carolina A&T winning 122-60, by draining outside shots, consistently. The offense was a well-oiled machine which took me by surprise since it has been 261 days since the Illini have played an opponent other than each other in practice. The defense also improved from last year, at least in this first game in which there was a point in time that the Aggies went on an eight-minute scoring drought. What does it all mean?
The Illini this season entered with a dominant recruiting class with Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, and Coleman Hawkins, all of who saw substantial playing time in the season opener. But the story from game one is Adam Miller. Miller in his debut knocked down 10-12 shots from the field and 6-8 from three-point land. Miller missed his first open look from the corner to start the game off, but soon found his rhythm after working out some nerves. Miller showed what he is capable of doing night in and night out for this team, setting a debut record for points scored in Illini history(28). Not only was he dominant in knocking down wide-open shots, but he was also effective in the transition game hustling back to the offensive or defensive side to make plays. Ayo Dosumu in the opener did what he does, he also dropped 28 in the bout, but he did something we haven't seen yet from him in his career at Illinois, knock down the three-ball. Ayo was 5-8 from three, and 11-18 from the field. Which is a recipe in the making for Brad Underwood and staff. If Miller is going to shoot like this, then they have to respect him outside which leaves somebody open on the wing, and the Illini capitalized on every defensive lapse or breakdown from the Aggies. Kofi was also himself in the season opener, collecting his 13th double-double in 32 career games. Da’Monte Williams was also impressive. Not only was he shutting down offensive players on defense, but he was also hitting wide-open looks, which is a change from last year. Overall, the incoming Freshman played a very well-rounded game, didn’t make mistakes that were horrid, and held their own, but we will have to see how they react once Big Ten play starts on Dec. 15.
This was only one game, with a very long road ahead but this team and coaching staff looks hungry. They have the winning mentality that each team needs to accomplish the goal of making it deep into March. There is also one more aspect that makes this team very dangerous, and that is their ability to play defense and transition. The Illini looked like a thoroughbred running up and down the floor, without too many miscues which resulted in turnovers. BU wants to be the best defensive team in the NCAA, and if they play like this during the Big Ten season, that goal will be accomplished as well.
The Illini have a short turn around, playing three games in three days with a 11 am tip against Chicago State tomorrow morning to start our thanksgiving. The pregame will come tomorrow morning around 10 am, and I will be covering the game just like today.