Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations From the McKendree Victory

Illinois Basketball

Mar 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) is guarded by Purdue Boilermakers guard P.J. Thompson (3) during the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois basketball team moved to 3-0 after a win against McKendree on Tuesday night.

This wasn’t a huge win for the Illini, but it was a much needed tune-up game for the players as they head into the harder part of the non-conference slate.

Here are three observations I made in the McKendree victory.

Jalen Coleman-Lands is Amazing

When Jalen Coleman-Lands entered the Illinois basketball program I was amazed by his shooting ability.  I think I even proclaimed him as the greatest shooter in Illini history.

Sometimes I overreact to things I see and this might have been the case at the time.  But, it seems like that statement wasn’t too far off and by the time his career is done it might be right on the money.

Coleman-Lands is a great shooter and on Tuesday night against McKendree he had it going.

For the night, Coleman-Lands shot 6-of-10 from the field and 6-of-9 from the three-point line.  That is an amazing 66-percent from deep.

If Coleman-Lands can come close to this mark throughout the season that would be the offensive firepower the Illini need to win some NCAA Tournament games.

I don’t know if starting two point guards will last throughout the non-conference slate, but I think Coleman-Lands should be in the starting lineup.

There is no reason Coleman-Lands should be coming off the bench.  He is easily the best shooter on the team right now and I think the best shooter in the Big Ten.

Coming into the game against McKendree, Coleman-Lands was a little rusty because of an off-season injury.  But it clearly looks like he has shaken that rust off.

Illinois Basketball

Dec 31, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; A general view of a Nike Xavier Musketeers basketball on the court at Cintas Center. Xavier won 70-53. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Te’Jon Lucas Will Be Special

The class of 2016 wasn’t deep.  There was only one player that committed to Illinois from this class and that was point guard Te’Jon Lucas.

Lucas suffered an injury at the beginning of 2016 but it looks like he is ready to go for this Illini team.

In the game against McKendree, Lucas received 22 minutes of playing time and scored 9 points and dished out 6 assists.

This was a great game for Lucas and it showed Illini Nation what he could do on the basketball court.

I know this victory was against a DII program, but Lucas’ performance left no doubt in my mind that he will be a true superstar with the Illini.

There were times on the court when Lucas went and got his own basket.  He nailed a three-pointer from the corner and he had a floater on the elbow that went over the defenders head and in the hoop.

Lucas has a scoring ability from the point guard position that we haven’t seen since Demetri McCamey.

Lucas excels as a floor general as well.

I was shocked how quick Lucas picked up the game.  He can distribute the ball well and he gets everyone involved in the game.

I want to see Lucas become the No. 2 point guard on this team full-time.  He has the ability to be a game-changer for the Illini.

Nov 11, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Malcolm Hill (21) and center Mike Thorne Jr. (33) and guard Tracy Abrams (13) and guard Aaron Jordan (23) and guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (5) await the end of a timeout during the first half against the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Thorne Jr. Is Rusty

At the end of the game, the stat sheet for the Illini showed that Mike Thorne Jr. had 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.

This is pretty solid on paper, but on the basketball court, you could tell that Thorne was lost at times and seemed a little lethargic.

I attribute all of this to the fact that he hasn’t played competitive basketball in almost a year after his injury in 2015.

Last season, Thorne averaged 14.4 PPG and 9 RPG in just six and a half games he played.  Those are pretty good numbers.

But, the last game that Thorne really played in was the first half of the Iowa State game on November 28, 2015.

Since then, Thorne really hasn’t played a game healthy and he is finally getting the chance to do so.

I am glad Illinois has an easy schedule to start the non-conference.  This gives Groce the ability to ease Thorne back into gameplay.

Thorne only shot 33-percent from the field against McKendree but he was clearly just trying to find his touch.

There are a few more non-conference games left for Thorne to get into the full grove of things before the real competition starts.

I think Thorne will start getting more minutes and hit his stride right when the Illini need him.

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