ATLANTA -- The Illinois Fighting Illini hit 12 3-pointers, shot 61.5 percent from the floor to bounce back from their first loss of the season with a convincing 81-62 win over the Auburn Tigers on Sunday at Philips Arena.
Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice, a junior-college transfer, led the way with 22 points and has now scored in double figures in each of his first nine games with the Illini. Guard Tracy Abrams added 17 points, and forward Jon Akey finished with 14 in the Illini's second game in Atlanta this week. Illinois squandered a late 12-point lead in a disappointing loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, but put the Tigers away quickly and decisively Sunday.
The Illini (8-1) got off to a fast start, carving up Auburn's man-to-man defense for easy shots around the basket and open jumpers from outside. Ekey hit two 3-points from the wing and had a layup, as the Illinois jumped out a 20-11 lead at the midway point of the first half.
Auburn struggled to find a rhythm in its half-court offense and turned it over nine times in the first half. The Tigers managed just four points in the final 7:47 of the first half. Auburn went to the locker room down 41-17 after Abrams drained the Illini's seventh 3-pointer of the first half at the buzzer.
The Auburn football team won the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on Saturday, but there weren't a lot of War Eagle fans left over. In fact, Philips Arena was less than half full for the SEC-Big Ten matchup.
The Illinois lead ballooned to 30 early in the second half. The Tigers (4-3), who were picked to finish last in the SEC by the media, never seriously threatened. Guard KT Harrell led Auburn with 23 points, and freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen added 13 points. Leading-scorer and guard Chris Denson was held to a season-low eight points.
NOTES: The Illini will play five games at NBA arenas this season, including next week's game against Oregon at the Moda Center in Portland. ... Auburn returns home to host Clemson. ... Former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley was in attendance. ... Auburn G Chris Denson entered Sunday's game as the SEC's leading scorer, averaging 21.8 points per game. ... Illinois improved to 21-2 in non-conference, regular-season games under coach John Groce. ... Illinois beat Auburn 81-79 last season at the United Center in Chicago. ... After turning it over nine times in the first half, the Tigers only committed four turnovers in the second half.