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Illinois celebrates John Groce’s debut with three-party vs. Colgate

Tracy Abrams drives basket Illinois’ seasopener Friday. Abrams scored 13 points. | Heather Coit~AP

Tracy Abrams drives to the basket in Illinois’ season opener Friday. Abrams scored 13 points. | Heather Coit~AP

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:16AM

CHAMPAIGN — All those thousands of offseason shots the Illini took — Nnanna Egwu led the way with a Ray Kroc-like 23,000 made — paid off in their first game.

Illinois served up a 75-55 victory over Colgate in John Groce’s Illini coaching debut Friday by draining 13 of 30 three-point shots, two short of the school record, accomplished twice by the 2005 Final Four team. Illinois, which was 10-for-18 on first-half three-pointers, never made more than 11 threes last year.

Actually, Groce wasn’t thrilled with some of the early rainbows. To welcome him, Illini fans were asked to remain silent until Illinois scored its 10th point, a tradition observed at Taylor University, Groce’s alma mater.

‘‘Too many threes! Drive the ball!’’ Groce ordered, cutting through the Orange Hush as Illinois opened the game by scoring its first four baskets on three-point shots.

‘‘In the first three minutes, I thought we settled on a couple,’’ Groce said. ‘‘But I’d say 15 of the 18 were probably great looks. And we have guys who can shoot the ball. The guys worked hard this summer to earn the right to make shots. We have a lot of confidence in these guys.’’

After a couple of early hiccups, the Illini opened a 43-25 lead at the break and cruised home after the Jesse White Tumblers provided the halftime thrills.

Groce said he was too busy taking care of business to dwell on his inaugural Illinois game.

‘‘It’s a privilege to coach at the University of Illinois,’’ he said. ‘‘But once the ball’s tipped, we’re coaching. As coach [Lou] Henson said to me, ‘As long as you keep in mind that it’s always about Illinois, you’ll be in good shape.’ ’’

Brandon Paul, who has all the tools to have a big year, led the Illini with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

‘‘They pretty much give me the confidence to shoot any shot,’’ Paul said. ‘‘The team did a good job of getting me in a position to score. I probably set up too much at the three-point line [3-for-8]. But at the same time, we were hitting shots, and the game was flowing. I think we played pretty well.’’

Tracy Abrams (13 points, five assists) and D.J. Richardson (nine points and seven rebounds) also had solid openers as Groce gave eight players significant minutes and got strong contributions from all of them.

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