No. 10 Illinois 66, Eastern Kentucky 53: Brandon Paul had 17 points and a season-high nine rebounds as the Illini held off the Colonels in a battle between two of college basketball’s nine remaining unbeaten Division I teams.
Tracy Abrams scored 13 points while Joseph Bertrand added 11 for Illinois (12-0), which is off to its best start since the 2005-06 team won its first 15 games.
Glenn Cosey nailed a 3-pointer for Eastern Kentucky (9-1) with 4:12 left in the first half, but a jumper and free throw from Nnanna Egwu were the last points scored before intermission by either team as the Illini held a 25-20 halftime lead.
Illinois, which shot just 36.7 percent over the opening 20 minutes, nearly doubled that mark with a 70-percent effort in the second half. Paul scored five of his team’s first nine points out of the break as the Illini built a 36-22 advantage. The pesky Colonels rallied to within five points, but Paul and Abrams keyed a 9-0 run to help Illinois retake a 14-point lead with 5:44 remaining.
Sophomore Corey Walden scored a career-high 21 points for Eastern Kentucky, which saw its best start in 66 years come to an end.
GAME NOTEBOOK: John Groce became the first Illinois coach in the modern era – and first in 105 years – to begin his Illini tenure with 12 straight wins. … Eastern Kentucky also saw its longest winning streak since the 1964-65 season halted. … The Illini, who outrebounded the Colonels 39-20 but had a season-high 20 turnovers, have won 34 consecutive regular-season home games over non-conference opponents.