Illinois (5-0) at UNLV (2-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, November 26, 10:45 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Illinois 5-0, UNLV 2-2. Away Record: Illinois 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Series Record: Illinois leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini hit the road for the first time this season as they invade the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday night for a non- conference clash with the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.
John Groce's Illini have enjoyed some home cooking, as they have won each game of a season-opening five game homestand by double digits. The team closed out the homestand with last Friday's 77-53 rout of Chicago State.
Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels have also not ventured outside of Sin City, as the team begins the campaign with a six-game homestand that ends on Nov. 30 against Tennessee-Martin. UNLV has split its first four games and comes into this contest off an 86-80 loss to Arizona State last week.
Illinois has won three of the four all-time meetings with UNLV, but it was the Rebels finally putting one in the win column over the Illini last time these teams met, a 64-48 victory in Chicago in 2011.
Illinois seeks its third straight 6-0 start to a season. The team is in a position to do so thanks to its strong defensive play. The Illini are limiting the opposition to jut 57.0 ppg this year, holding foes to a mere .349 shooting, while enjoying a +14.6 rebounding margin. Scoring depth comes as four of the team's five starters are averaging double figures, led by Rayvonte Rice's 15.6 ppg. Joseph Bertrand is shooting a team-high .575 from the floor and leads the way on the boards (7.4 rpg), while netting 13.0 ppg. Tracy Abrams and Jon Ekey (10.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) round out the top scorers on the roster. Nnanna Egwu (9.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) completes the starting five.
The Illini allowed Chicago State to hang around in the first half, but distanced themselves after intermission to post the 24-point victory. Eckey led the way for Illinois with 19 points, thanks in large part to five 3- pointers. Bertrand, Abrams and Rice all chipped in with 12 points each, as Illinois held a huge edge in rebounding (39-20) and shot .481 from the floor, including 9-of-21 from 3-point range (.429).
Everything pointed to a UNLV victory, but in the end, the Rebels still came out on the wrong end of a six-point decision to the Sun Devils. UNLV had all five starters finish in double figures, grabbed a whopping 55 rebounds and committed just eight total turnovers. The loss spoiled a dominant performance from Roscoe Smith, who finished with 18 points and a career-high 21 rebounds. Kevin Olekaibe finished with 14 points, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kendall Smith added 13 points each, while Khem Birch chipped in with 11 points and 14 boards.
The 6-foot-8 Smith has been a force inside this season, converting 56.1 percent of his shots, while pacing the team in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (16.3 rpg). Birch has been tough down low as well, with a double- double of his own (10.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg), while pacing the team with 5.4 blocks per game. Olekaibe (13.5 ppg) gives UNLV perimeter balance with a team-high 14 3-pointers. Dejean-Jones (12.3 ppg) gives the team even more depth. Despite the individual playmakers, as a team, the Rebels are shooting just .412 from the floor, averaging a modes 71.2 ppg, while allowing 72.5.
These are two teams that like to force their will on the opposition. UNLV may be home in this one, but Illinois will counter Smith and Birch inside and pull off a hard-fought road win to remain unbeaten.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 74, UNLV 71
11/26 10:35:32 ET