Illini eke out win against EKU, remain undefeated

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Illini eke out win against EKU, remain undefeated

CHAMPAIGN Someone had to come away from Assembly Hall without a perfect record Sunday night, and Illinois refusal to let Eastern Kentucky be that team kept their perfect season in tact. The Illini finished the 2012 portion of their home schedule with a 66-53 win over the Colonels, improving to 12-0 on the season.
The win was anything but easy for No. 10 Illinois, as the team matched its season high with 20 turnovers. It was the will of the Illini that helped them overcome EKU (9-1), coach John Groce said.
I was really, really proud of our effort, he said after the game. We had great energy, we played with toughness, we had a nastiness about us on the defensive end for the full 40 minutesI thought it was great.
The hosts showed more urgency early in the game than in previous home contests, but EKUs effort to turn over the Illini kept them off-balance. The Illinois defense held up, however, and with five minutes gone Brandon Paul drove the lane and dished to Sam McLaurin, whose dunk put Illinois ahead, 9-3.
The defense was strong for Illinois all game. EKU came into the game shooting 49.5 percent from the field (13th in the nation), but the Illini limited it to 30 percent shooting in the first half. Illinois also won the rebounding battle (42-23) and came up with nine blocks, four from Nnanna Egwu.
Egwu was all over the place defensively. His stat line doesnt do him justicehe was really locked in, as were most of our guys, Groce said.
The Colonels 1-3-1 zone defense was also impressive on Sunday. EKU came into the game second in the nation at forcing turnovers and used that ability to keep Illinois from getting into a rhythm. The Illini were able to maintain a lead, but unable to crack the zone and pull away from the visitors.
Turnovers, particularly offensive fouls, became more troublesome for Illinois as the first half wore on. Midway through the first the Illini had racked up nine turnovers, three on offensive fouls. Those errors allowed EKU to close the gap, 17-15, with just under eight minutes remaining.
They got in passing lanes, they were man conscious and good at denying, Groce said about the Colonels. Thats what they do, thats what theyre good at.
Joseph Bertrand's contributions helped Illinois overcome the oppositions tough defense, however. With starting point guard Tracy Abrams forced to the bench with two fouls in the first half, Bertrand went 3-for-4 from the field, scoring seven points and grabbed six rebounds. His hard work kept Illinois in front at the break, 25-20.
Abrams came back after halftime and made a big impact. He started the half with a steal and a layup to get Illinois going. From there the team went on an 11-2 run to grab their biggest lead, 36-22 at 15:15.
Sloppy play by the Illini led to four quick turnovers, however, and the gap was cut under ten a minute-and-a-half later.
The Illinois lead would get as low as four, after Corey Walden converted an and-one opportunity, bringing the score to 42-38. On the next possession, however, Abrams gave Illinois some breathing room by hitting a three.
Abrams put his team on his back from there, making a string of big plays of his own. With five-and-a-half minutes to go the sophomore grabbed a rebound and ran the length of the court to drop in a layup. He followed that up with a steal and a 3 on the next possession putting Illinois up by 14 again, 54-40.
Tracey had a look in his eye after sitting in first, Groce said. The point guard said sitting didnt add motivation, though.
Last game I sat out with two fouls too, he said. You just gotta stay positive and be in to the game. You cant be selfish, just gotta be there for the team and be in to the game.
Despite Abrams outburst, the Illini could not get comfortable, as back-to-back 3's by Tarius Johnson and Glenn Cosey closed the gap to eight a minute later. A dunk from Paul and a 3 from Tyler Griffey did allow Illinois to be a little more at ease, bringing the score to 61-48 with two-and-a-half minutes to play.
A few empty possessions for EKU forced the Colonels to foul, giving Illinois even more breathing room. The Illini made five of six free throws in the final minute to see out the win. Paul led all Illini with 17 points. He came just one rebound shy of the double-double, grabbing nine boards. Abrams finished with 13 and Bertrand had 11 points. D.J. Richardson dished out a career-high seven assists in the win.
Despite their issues with turnovers, Illinois finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field, matching their best output of the season. Paul was not satisfied with the excellent shooting though, wanting to see his teammates continue to play consistent all around.
We can make the most shots in the world but if we dont guard were going to end up trading baskets anyway, the senior guard said.
With the win Groce becomes the first Illinois coach in more than 100 years to start his Illinois career with 12 straight wins. To ensure a perfect non-conference season, however, Groces team will have to win a pair of neutral site games to close out the calendar year.
Illinois is back in action next week to take on Missouri in the Braggin Rights game at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. The Illini will then head to the United Center on Dec. 29 to play Auburn.

Here's the official schedule for the 2016 Big Ten/ACC Challenge

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Here's the official schedule for the 2016 Big Ten/ACC Challenge

The matchups for this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge were reported Monday night, giving hoops fans a look at which Big Ten teams would be going up against which ACC squads in the annual conference-vs.-conference event.

Tuesday, things became official, with the leagues announcing the matchups and providing the schedule of events.

Here's the official schedule for the 2016 edition of the Challenge.

Monday, Nov. 28
Minnesota at Florida State
Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29
Syracuse at Wisconsin
Michigan State at Duke
Pittsburgh at Maryland
Iowa at Notre Dame
Georgia Tech at Penn State
North Carolina State at Illinois

Wednesday, Nov. 30
Purdue at Louisville
North Carolina at Indiana
Ohio State at Virginia
Virginia Tech at Michigan
Rutgers at Miami
Nebraska at Clemson

Blackhawks announce three new signings

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Blackhawks announce three new signings

The Blackhawks agreed to terms with goaltender Lars Johansson, defenseman Michal Kempny and forward Martin Lundberg on one-year deals on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Kempny had 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 59 games with Avangard Omsk (KHL) last season. He had two assists in eight games with the Czech Republic in the IIHF World Championship.

Johansson, 28, spent the last three seasons with Frolunda HC (Swedish Hockey League). He was 56-27-0 over those three seasons. Last season, he had a league-leading 1.74 goals-against average and a 27-6-0 record.

The 25-year-old Lundberg had 13 goals and eight assists in 44 games with Skelleftea AIK (Swedish Hockey League). He also had two goals in eight games with Sweden in the World Championship.

Illini dismiss Kendrick Nunn from basketball program

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Illini dismiss Kendrick Nunn from basketball program

Kendrick Nunn is no longer a member of the Illinois basketball team.

Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman and head basketball coach John Groce released a joint statement Tuesday afternoon announcing that Nunn, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery last week, has been dismissed from the program.

"We have made the decision to dismiss Kendrick Nunn from the men's basketball team, effective immediately. We have not reached this decision easily; we care deeply about Kendrick and want him to be successful. But after extensive deliberation, we think it best for our program to reaffirm our core values of trust and respect, to send a strong message about what is acceptable behavior for our student-athletes at the University of Illinois and to part ways with Kendrick. As it is on college campuses across the country, relationship violence is of significant concern at our university, and we expect Fighting Illini student-athletes to be leaders in promoting healthy, respectful, caring relationships. We wish Kendrick all the best as he prepares for the next chapter of his life."

Nunn was arrested on charges of domestic battery in March shortly after the Illini's season came to an end. He initially faced two counts of domestic battery, though those charges were reduced to one count of misdemeanor battery, which Nunn pleaded guilty to last week, admitting that he hit a woman in the head. He was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision, 100 hours of community service, enrollment in a partner abuse intervention program, a written letter of apology and a $200 fine. He will receive no conviction on his record if he does all those things.

Nunn, a Chicago native and Simeon High School product, was one of Illinois' top players. Last season as a junior, he averaged 15.5 points per game, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten. He also ranked among the conference leaders in steals and made 3-pointers.

But despite Nunn's value to the team, Whitman — who has still been on the job only a few months — opted to make a bold statement about the culture of an athletics department that has received a lot of negative attention in recent years.

Nunn was one of three Illinois players arrested since February.

Junior forward Leron Black was arrested after pulling a knife on a nightclub bouncer, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor version of the original charge and entered a second-chance program, completing 20 hours of public service and paying a $200 fine in addition to receiving a sentence of 12 months of conditional discharge. Black was suspended for two exhibition games and the first four regular-season games of the upcoming campaign.

Senior guard Jaylon Tate was arrested and charged with domestic battery in March. Those charges were dismissed last week, and Tate was reinstated from an indefinite suspension.

Nunn is the second player dismissed from the Illinois program in a calendar year. Last summer, Darius Paul was dismissed after he was arrested during the team's European trip.