CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — With the opposing styles of American and No. 24 Illinois, something had to give.
American entered the game ranked third in scoring defense, while Illinois was 10th in offense at 86 points per game.
The game was played at a sluggish pace, but the Illini pulled away from the Eagles 70-55 behind 13 points from Malcolm Hill.
“It’s a difficult game to play from the standpoint of their style,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They play a style that requires you to be really disciplined and grind.”
The Illini (7-1) only led by two points midway through the first half, but a 17-2 run put the Eagles (5-4) in an early deficit.
American whittled the lead to eight with 10:42 remaining in the second half. But the Illini’s Jaylon Tate had a three-point play and Hill drained a 3-pointer off a steal on the next possession.
“We had to do a lot of things almost perfectly to be in the game and we didn’t do that tonight,” American coach Mike Brennen said. “We were sort of out-manned at every position.”
Pee Wee Gardner led American with 16 points, while Jesse Reed added 13 points. The Eagles lost the bench scoring stat 28-3. Their lone bench points came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Marko Vasic to end the game.
Nnanna Egwu chipped in five points and seven rebounds, while Rayvonte Rice worked his way through a shooting slump, 1-of-7 from the field, to finish with 10 points for Illinois.
“The bench is really important,” Hill said. “We have a bench full of starters, I’d say. Not mid-majors, but high D1 places.”
The Eagles slowed the pace of the game and worked the entire shot clock on many possessions. Despite only scoring 55 points, the Eagles shot 50 percent from the field.
After consecutive poor shooting performances against Baylor and Miami, the Illinois offense was back to its usual form. The Illini shot 48.1 percent from the floor in the first half and 47.9 percent for the game.
Illinois was just 5 of 12 from behind the 3-point line, well below its average of 9.4 per game.
American: The 70 points is the most American has given up this season. The loss Saturday is the first time this season that the Eagles have lost when scoring more than 49 points.
Illinois: Entering Saturday’s game, Rice was the only player in the country with at least 14 points, six rebounds and one made 3-pointer in each game. His streak was snapped as he was 0-for-3 from behind the arc and finished with two rebounds.
The Illini entered the week ranked at No. 24 in the AP poll but their stay in the rankings may be short-lived. Illinois lost to No. 15 Miami 70-61 on Tuesday.
Illinois reserve center Maverick Morgan had a career day for the Illini on Saturday. Morgan set a career-high with eight points on 3 of 5 shooting and tied his career-high with four rebounds in just 11 minutes of play.
“He needed to make some positive plays for our team and I thought he did that today,” Groce said. “Hopefully a step in the right direction for him.”
American will play at La Salle on Dec. 16.
Illinois will play No. 10 Villanova in New York on Tuesday.
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