Illinois 76, Jackson St. 55
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—With just two regular starters eligible to play, Illinois had to reach deep on its bench and ask for big minutes from inexperienced players in a 76-55 win over visiting Jackson State on Wednesday night.
Warren Carter led the Illini (2-0) with a career-high 16 points. Carter also had 15 rebounds and two blocked shots, playing 37 minutes.
Illinois’ top returner from 2005-06, Rich McBride, is suspended following a drunk driving arrest in September. Forward Brian Randle missed the game after aggravating a groin injury against Austin Peay on Monday, when guard Jamar Smith also suffered a high ankle sprain that will keep him benched for a month or more.
Jackson State’s Trey Johnson led the Tigers (0-3), who controlled the game for the first 20 minutes. Johnson collected 27 points on 9-for-28 shooting, padding it by making seven of 10 free throws.
The Tigers jumped to a 10-0 lead before Carter, a 6-9 senior playing small forward thanks to Illinois’ skinny lineup, sunk a jumper to put his team on the board. Jackson State answered by building an 18-4 lead just 5:34 into the game, and Illinois struggled to make up the difference.
With the Illini in bonus just seven minutes into the game, the home team made good use of its trips to the free-throw line, going 8-for-12 in the first half. But Illinois still needed the full 20 minutes to recover, slowly clawing back until Chester Frazier’s last-second layup brought the score to 34-34 going into halftime.
Frazier, who averaged 13.4 minutes per game last season, played the entire game, contributing a career-high 14 points for Illinois. The sophomore point guard continued to struggle with his free-throw shooting, but had nine assists and seven rebounds.
Illinois returned from halftime with renewed confidence and opened second-half scoring with a jumper from Calvin Brock. Jackson State’s Jeremy Caldwell answered with a bucket two minutes later, but Illinois’ next shot—a clean 3-pointer from Frazier—re-energized the crowd and put Illinois back in the lead.
While Jackson State stayed in the game, Illinois never again lost momentum, improving to 17-of-23 shooting in the second half.