CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Illinois freshman Brandon Paul didn’t wait long to get his name in the school’s record book.
Paul scored 22 points in the No. 23 Illini’s 96-69 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Friday night, breaking Deon Thomas’ record for most points in a freshman debut set in 1990. Thomas scored 21 in his first game.
Paul came out firing, scoring 11 of Illinois’ first 21 points. The highly touted freshman was 8 of 15 from the fielding, including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, and added four rebounds and four assists in an all-around effort.
“We wanted to come out with a lot of energy. We all came out really excited to play,” he said. “I just wanted to come out and put points on the board. I just want to keep playing hard.”
The Illini, ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2005, shot 55.4 percent from the field and scored their most points in a game since 105 against Longwood in 2004.
“I was definitely excited about the game, how we played with high energy,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “Today the whole thing was energy, excitement and get off to a good, early start, and we did all those things. The crowd got into it. It was a tremendous crowd.”
Paul and D.J. Richardson were the first freshmen to start for Illinois since Brian Randle in 2003. It also marked the first time that more than one freshman were in the Illini’s starting lineup since the trio of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and James Augustine in 2002.
Denykco Bowles, Aamir McCleary and Stephen Jones had 13 points each for SIU-Edwardsville (0-1), which shot just 34.5 percent from the field.
Weber’s teams have been known for their stellar defense, and they didn’t let up against an overmatched in-state opponent.
Seven-foot-1 junior Mike Tisdale made his presence known in the paint, grabbing six rebounds with three blocks—including rejections on SIU-Edwardsville’s first two possessions of the game to set the tone for the defense. Junior forward Mike Davis returned to last season’s form with 10 points and 10 rebounds for his 10th career double-double.
“Brandon got hot quick, Demetri (McCamey) made a couple shots, I got a dunk, Dominique (Keller) came in and got a dunk. The crowd was electric. The crowd was great tonight,” Davis said. “Coach talked about coming out with energy and that’s what we did tonight.”
The guard play of Richardson and Paul thrilled the crowd at Assembly Hall. Richardson was nursing a sore right shooting elbow after hyper extending it at the end of practice on Thursday, but still finished with 14 points, four assists and no turnovers.
The Cougars struggled to find a way to slow down the suddenly explosive Illini offense, which scored 19 points off turnovers.
While the Illini (1-0) were known last year for slow-paced and low-scoring games, the transition game was up-tempo with energy to spare against SIU-Edwardsville, leading to easy baskets and dunks. Four players scored in double digits with 11 had at least two points.
“Everybody on our team, you never know who’s going to score the most points,” Richardson said. “We have a team of players that can do a variety of things.”
The win marked the 11th straight home opener win for the Illini.
Jeff Jordan was forced to sit out the game as part of a two game suspension by the NCAA for playing in an unsanctioned event during the summer.