No. 22 Illinois 75, Georgia Tech 62

Just when it appeared No. 22 Illinois had gone quiet, reserve
guard Joseph Bertrand made some noise.

The redshirt junior hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions
and scored every point in a 10-0 run to ignite the Illini to a
75-62 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday night in an ACC-Big
Ten Challenge game.

Illinois (8-0) rallied late behind Bertrand, whose one-man show
lifted the Illini from a 58-54 deficit late in the second half.
They finished the game on a 21-4 run over the final 7:15.

”Until you get to know him, Joe sometimes comes off like a
quiet guy, but he’s got some big-time energy,” Illinois coach John
Groce said. ”I very rarely will watch practice film or game film
and say, `Bertrand isn’t playing hard.”’

Bertrand scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half as the
surprising Illini kept up their early-season run.

After missing his first season with a knee injury, Bertrand
relied upon his athleticism to get to the basket and create scoring
opportunities for himself during the last two years. By
concentrating on his perimeter game during individual practice
sessions over the summer, he’s become tougher to guard.

”It’s really helped my confidence,” Bertrand said. ”I’m
looking to shoot them more this year. I was driving more last year.
I’m looking to do both.”

Bertrand was 6 for 8 from the floor while going 3 of 4 behind
the 3-point line.

”He brings a lot of energy off the bench,” Georgia Tech coach
Brian Gregory said. ”He’s a great athlete. He’s just streaky
enough to be dangerous.”

Illinois guard Brandon Paul also scored 15 points to go with
seven rebounds and seven assists. Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson
had 14 points apiece.

After losing 12 of its last 14 games last season, Illinois is
off to a strong start under Groce, who became the only coach since
World War II to start his Illini career with eight straight
wins.

”If you’d have said, `Hey, would you predict 8-0?’ I wouldn’t
have been bold enough to do that,” Groce said.

Kammeon Holsey led Georgia Tech (4-2) with 14 points while Jason
Morris and Mfon Udofia scored 10 apiece. The Yellow Jackets
appeared to grab control with a 12-3 run midway through the second
half for a 54-50 lead before wilting down the stretch.

”Unfortunately for 33 minutes, that was a heck of a game,”
Gregory said. ”We didn’t play very well at the end. Very similar
to our other loss against Cal. We’re just not quite tough enough at
the end.”

Illinois entered the week as the nation’s leading 3-point
shooting team, making an average of 10.9 per game. The Illini
quickly found themselves in a long-distance shooting contest with
Georgia Tech.

The teams combined to make 6 of 10 from the 3-point line to
start the game. But the Illini kept it up, finishing with a
season-high 14 3-pointers, one short of the Assembly Hall
single-game record.

Meanwhile, the Illini also used a 2-3 zone defense for long
stretches, something not seen from Illinois in years, but relied on
man-to-man defense most of the game.

”Our defense ignited our offense during that 21-4 run,” Groce
said. ”When we defend like that and get some stops, we can put
points on the board in a hurry. That’s what happened to end the
game.”

Illinois has a 31-game nonconference winning streak in
regular-season games at Assembly Hall. A loss to Dayton in 2011,
when Gregory was coaching the Flyers, came in the NIT.

Illinois, which relied upon 3-point shooting in its biggest wins
this season, used 3-pointers from Richardson and Griffey during an
8-2 run to start the second half for a 44-37 lead.

Georgia Tech rallied with two 3-pointers from guard Chris Bolden
and a breakaway dunk by Morris for a 54-50 lead with 10:16
left.

Georgia Tech was finishing an eight-day trip that took the team
to California. After placing third in the DirecTV Classic in
Anaheim, the Yellow Jackets were 7 of 10 from the field to grab a
21-15 lead.

The lead changed hands six times in a back-and-forth first half,
when Illinois shot 46.7 percent from the 3-point line while the
Yellow Jackets hit 45.5 from behind the arc.