Champaign, IL, United States (4E Sports) – Senior guard Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams scored 13 apiece in the second half as No. 10 Illinois overcame early shooting woes to beat Eastern Kentucky, 66-53, Sunday at Assembly Hall.
Paul hit six of 14 shots to finish with 17 points while Abrams had 13 as the Fighting Illini remained unbeaten with a 12-0 record despite shooting just 37.9 percent from the floor and 15.4 percent from three-point range in the first half.
This marks the sixth-best start in Illini history and the most wins to start a season since 2005-06, when they opened with a 15-0 record.
Also, John Groce became the first coach to start his Illinois career 12-0 in over 100 years. Groce ties Fletcher Lane, who won his first 12 games at Illinois in 1907-08, although 11 of those 12 victories came against club teams.
Paul, recently picked by the US Basketball Writers Association as National Player of the Week, also grabbed nine boards and three assists while Abrams had five boards for Illinois.
Joseph Bertrand contributed 11 markers for the Fighting Illini, who outrebounded (42-23) and out-assisted the Colonels (16-8). Illinois also had more blocks, 9-1, but committed 20 turnovers compared to Eastern Kentucky’s 10.
Corey Walden scored 21 points and Glenn Cosey added 11 points in a losing cause for the Colonels, who tasted their first defeat in 10 games.
Both teams struggled to find their mark in the first half with the Colonels shooting just 30.8 percent from the field.
The Fighting Illini found their shooting touch in the second half, making their first five shots in an 11-2 blast keyed by Paul and Abrams to extend their five-point halftime lead to 34-22.
Walden scored seven straight points to bring the Colonels within 42-38 with 10:47 left.
The Fighting Illini responded with a 14-4 blast to extend their lead to 56-42 with five minutes to go and never threatened from there.
Illinois shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half to finish the game with a 50-percent clip while the Colonels improved to 40.6 percent.