Highly touted freshman Brandon Paul got a lot of the credit for leading Illinois to two strong performances to start the season. D.J. Richardson showed in the team’s last game that the freshman class is more than one player deep.
Richardson looks to build on the best game of his young career and help the No. 20 Illini continue their early success as they meet Wofford in the second round of the Las Vegas Invitational on Tuesday night.
Paul scored 22 points as Illinois cruised to a win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in its season opener, breaking Deon Thomas’ 1990 record for most points in a freshman debut. He led the Illini again in a rout of Northern Illinois last Tuesday, scoring 20 with four 3-pointers in 29 minutes.
While the 6-foot-4 guard from Gurnee, Ill., has had a successful start, he’s not the only talented freshman in the Illini starting lineup. After averaging 9.5 points in his first two games, Richardson scored 15 to lead Illinois to a 94-48 win over Presbyterian on Saturday.
The 6-foot-3 guard from Peoria, Ill., was 5 for 10 from the field, including 4 for 6 from behind the arc, as the Illini shot 54.2 percent overall and made 11 of 26 3-point attempts (42.3 percent) despite an off-night for Paul.
“He was knocking down shots all night,” forward Mike Davis said of Richardson, who added five assists and three rebounds. “D.J. did a good job of penetrating and kicking, and we did a good job of knocking down our shots. We were pretty hot from the field.”
Coach Bruce Weber was satisfied with that performance, particularly after a 20-7 run at the end of the first half allowed the Illini to pull away. However, he thinks replicating it could be tough as the schedule gets more challenging.
“We settled down, played good, solid defense and probably wore them down more than anything. I thought our transition and zone attack got better,” Weber said. “It was a good win for us. Now the competition obviously gets a lot tougher.”
That begins with Wofford (2-2), which has gotten off to a solid start. The Terriers nearly pulled off an upset on the road against Pittsburgh in their season opener but fell 63-60. They rebounded with a narrow win over Georgia and a rout of Lees-McRae before losing 56-54 at Bradley on Sunday.
“I thought we were back on our heels a little bit down 13, but battled back and got some shots down finally,” coach Mike Young told the school’s official Web site. “If that is our biggest concern offensively, no worries, we are going to be just fine. We just did not do it tonight. We let this one get away from us, and our guys know that.”
The Terriers have lost 11 straight games against ranked opponents by an average of 23.7 points since joining the Southern Conference for the 1997-98 season. This is their first meeting with the Illini.