Tracy Abrams (AP)Even if Illinois turns out to be underrated and USC turns out to be only marginally better than last year's 26-loss team, it's probably safe to assume the Illini won't play a better half this season than Monday night's first half and the Trojans won't play a worse one.
Illinois led USC 57-26 at halftime of their Maui Invitational quarterfinal, a staggering result considering Las Vegas oddsmakers favored the Trojans by two points entering the game. The Illini finished off the rout in the second half, never letting the lead fall below 19 points en route to a 94-64 rout.
Considering Illinois (4-0) needed overtime to beat Hawaii on Friday night and is expected to endure a rebuilding year in John Groce's first season, this was an alarming result for a revamped USC team that expects to contend for the NCAA tournament. The Trojans (2-1) have a healthy Jio Fontan at point guard, two 7-footers in the frontcourt and a handful of highly regarded transfers, yet they looked as inept and listless as they did at any point during last year's injury-plagued wreck of a season.
Some of the credit should go to Illinois, which has parlayed the newfound consistency of guard Brandon Paul and the solid perimeter play of Tracy Abrams and D.J. Richardson into a 4-0 start entering Tuesday's Maui semifinal against host Chaminade. To better appreciate how good the Illini were Monday night, here's a by-the-numbers look at their incredible first half:
57: points Illinois scored in the first half, more than 11 teams did against USC in entire games last season.
68: percent of the first-half shots Illinois attempted that it made, including blistering 7-of-13 3-point shooting.
5: first-half offensive rebounds for Illinois even though it only missed 10 shots before halftime.
11: consecutive shots Illinois sank to end the first half. The Illini went the final 7:38 without missing a single shot.
12: turnovers in the first half by USC.
34: USC's biggest first-half deficit, at 54-20 with 1:20 remaining before halftime.
4: timeouts USC coach Kevin O'Neill called in the first half, including one only 1 minute, 45 seconds into the game and two others only 61 seconds apart. Needless to say, they didn't help much.