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Illinois men’s basketball rolls to 89-64 win over St. Francis

Illinois' BrandPaul (3) drives St. Francis' KevDouglas (34) during first half an NCAA college basketball game Champaign Ill. Monday Nov.

Illinois' Brandon Paul (3) drives on St. Francis' Kevin Douglas (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/John Dixon)

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:28AM

CHAMPAIGN — Facing a team that needs parentheses to identify itself never provides a true indicator in a young college basketball season.

That was pretty much the deal when Illinois rolled past St. Francis (N.Y.) 89-64 on Monday at Assembly Hall.

The Illini (2-0) scored on 10 consecutive possessions in the second half and led by 35 points. More
important, Illinois kept moving up the learning curve, coach John Groce said, because it kept its
focus on the Terriers rather than on its travel itinerary.

‘‘We’ve got a chance to keep getting better with the effort they’re giving right now,’’ Groce said. ‘‘That gives us a chance to reach our
potential and get a little bit better every day.’’

This kind of workload is the usual stuff for a power-conference team in the first week of play —
unless you’re playing on an aircraft carrier. St. Francis (1-1), which is based in Brooklyn, is a middle-of-the-pack team in the Northeast Conference.

From here, the Illini step up in weight class. Illinois left for the
islands late Monday and plays Friday at Hawaii before its first-round game Monday against USC in the Maui Invitational. Butler, Marquette, North Carolina and Texas are also in the field, so everyone should know quickly how the Illini will stack up.

‘‘We still have another gear,’’ Groce said. ‘‘We’re getting closer.’’

Illinois produced positive numbers in critical areas against the Terriers. The Illini had eight assists
and four turnovers in the first half and nine assists and four turnovers in the second. After a slow start defensively, Illinois had six steals in the first 20 minutes and finished with nine.

‘‘We got contributions from a lot of guys,’’ Groce said. ‘‘I felt like we got better, for sure.’’

Tyler Griffey scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting to lead the Illini.
Tracy Abrams (15 points, four
assists, two turnovers) and Brandon Paul (14 points, six assists, two turnovers) were also solid.

While Griffey wants to score a basket in another state — his first basket in Hawaii would give him points in 37 states — the trip is a measuring stick.

‘‘It’s a great learning experience to see where we’re at as a team,’’ Griffey said.

A 25-6 run to end the first half put Illinois ahead 45-25. Griffey scored 10 points in the surge while making his first three three-pointers, but he also moved off the three-point line to show a mid-range game.

Just like in their opener against Colgate, the Illini relied on three-point shooting, going 7-for-15 in the first half and 11-for-25 overall.

‘‘They’ve gotten better,’’ St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said of Illinois. ‘‘We had a chance to see the two exhibition games and [the opener]. They took another step forward tonight.’’

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