GAME NOTES: The 22nd-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini will attempt to keep their unbeaten start to the season alive on Wednesday night when they play host to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Georgia Tech won its first two matchups at home before traveling to California for the DirecTV Classic. After winning its opening-round game against Rice (54-36), it lost to California in the semifinals, 68-57. The Yellow Jackets were able to redeem themselves in the third-place game however, by posting a 65-56 win over Saint Mary's to move to 4-1.
Having played seven games in a span of 17 days to open the season, few teams have been busier than Illinois. And the team has responded very well with wins in all seven matchups, highlighted by a 78-61 victory over Butler in the championship game of the 2012 Maui Invitational. Perhaps the trip home from Hawaii made the Illini a bit sluggish the last time out against Gardner-Webb, as they were losing in the final minute before Tyler Griffey's three-pointer with four seconds left gave them a 63-62 win.
Illinois holds a 6-1 advantage in the all-time series with Georgia Tech, with the last matchup coming in November of 2001.
The Yellow Jackets have gotten off to a surprisingly sluggish start in terms of shooting, as they are hitting just 41.2 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a dismal 20.9 percent showing from three-point range. There is good news though, as they have stepped it up at the defensive end by limiting their opponents to a mere 51.8 ppg. The effort was stout again in the win over Saint Mary's, as they held the Gaels to more turnovers (21) than field goals (17). Pacing four Georgia Tech players in double figures was Brandon Reed with 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range, which is more than double the points he scored in the first four games combined. On the season, Marcus Georges-Hunt leads the team with 11.4 ppg, although Kammeon Holsey (10.6 ppg) and Mfon Udofia (10.2 ppg) are hot on his heels. Nobody grabs more than 6.0 rpg, but four players record at least 5.0 rpg, which has resulted in a plus-5.6 rebounding margin.
For a team that outscores its opponents by nearly 17 ppg, going down to the wire at home against Gardner-Webb was certainly not part of the Illini's game plan, but the late three-pointer was able to bail the squad out of a mediocre night shooting (.438) and an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers. Griffey's late trey gave him 13 points on the evening, tying him with D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Joseph Bertrand for the team-lead. The Illini are no stranger to a balanced scoring effort, as four players average double-digits for the season, led by Brandon Paul with 18.7 ppg. Paul has been stellar from the field (.483) and the three-point line (.426), while he's dished out a team-high 26 assists (3.7 pg). Tracy Abrams (12.3 ppg) has also been impressive distributing the ball with 23 assists, but he's been plagued by just as many turnovers. Richardson scored 12.0 ppg and he leads the team with 5.0 rpg, and Griffey (10.9 ppg) has drilled 14-of-26 shots from long range.
These two teams play a similar style, so this one should be a fun one to watch. In a game that could down to the wire, expect Illinois to prevail in front of the hometown faithful.