ATLANTA (AP) — Rayvonte Rice scored 22 points Sunday and Illinois made a season-high 12 3-point shots in an 81-62 rout of Auburn in Philips Arena.
The junior guard and his teammates seemed to feel more at home than when in Atlanta five days earlier.
The Illini (8-1) led 60-47 late in their game Tuesday at nearby Georgia Tech only to lose 67-64 after the Yellow Jackets closed with a 19-4 blitz.
Sunday in Philips Arena, where Auburn (4-3) was considered the “home” team one year after playing Illinois at Chicago’s United Center, Illinois led 41-17 at halftime, and by 32 in the second half. They shot 61.5 percent (32 of 52), and 52.2 percent from beyond the arc (12 of 23).
“The thing I liked the most was our guys’ response after Tuesday night,” said Illinois coach John Groce. “I thought we got off to a great start at both ends. In the first half, the offense and the defense were both an A . . . the best 20 minutes we’ve played this year.”
Rice, the Illini’s leading scorer at 18 points per game, didn’t score in the first 15:34. His layup with 4:26 remaining triggered a 15-2 Illinois run, however, to close the first half.
Fellow junior Tracy Abrams added 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the visitors played like they owned the place.
It appeared there were more Illinois fans in Philips than Auburn fans less than 24 hours after the Tigers beat Missouri in the SEC football Championship Game across the street in the Georgia Dome.
“We just came out and threw the first punch; coach emphasized that,” Rice said after making 8 of 12 shots, including a pair of treys. “We were definitely mad about the loss at Georgia Tech.”
Former Auburn star Charles Barkley was in attendance and the Tigers could have used the 1984 SEC Player of the Year.
Senior guard Chris Denson entered the game as the SEC’s leading scorer at nearly 22 points per game, but with Rice and Joseph Bertrand chiefly tasked with defending him, Denson scored just eight points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Illinois was averaging just over six made 3-pointers a game, yet topped that in the first half in making 7 of 13 while Auburn missed all four of its shots from distance.
“With their defensive scheme (designed) to cut off penetration and cutting off drivers . . . our guys saw that and were willing to kick it out, make the extra pass and be unselfish,” Groce said. “Fortunately, we made some shots.”
Auburn (4-3) was led by junior guard KT Harrell’s 23 points, and freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen added 13 in a return to his hometown.
The Tigers, however, shot just 40 percent and that number was bumped up as they warmed up late while closing the game with a 22-8 run mostly against younger Illini players. Auburn shot just 6 of 23 (26.1 percent) in the first half.
Auburn starting power forward Jordon Granger did not score and center Benas Griciunas had just two points.
“We let our anemic offense . . . how many possessions in a row did we go and not score?” said Tigers coach Tony Barbee. “We’re not getting any production out of our (power forwards) and (centers). Nothing.”
Abrams was in the middle of just about everything that Illinois did on the way to a 41-17 halftime lead. He hit 3-of-5 3-pointers and scored 11 points while grabbing four rebounds with two assists and a pair of steals.
Illinois scored the final 11 points of the first half.
The Illini’s previous high for 3-pointers made was 10, against Bradley, in an 81-55 win on Nov. 17.
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