Illinois guard Tracy Abrams (13) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Southern California's Dewayne Dedmon (14) and Jio Fontan, right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Illinois defeated Southern California 94-64. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner
Sharing the ball when it had it and playing lockdown defense when it didn’t, Illinois opened a 57-26 halftime lead and wheeled past USC 94-64 in its Maui Invitational opener on Monday.
``The first half was about as good as we defended this season,’’ coach John Groce said. ``We were really unselfish in the first half, really shared the ball. We’ve got a lot of guys that can score and shoot the ball, so it’s hard to key on one guy. [But] I thought the whole deal was key by our defense.’’
Brandon Paul (26 points) led the way as Illinios (4-0) shot nearly 69 percent in the first half against the Trojans (2-1). D.J. Richardson (13), Tracy Abrams (11) and Tyler Griffey (10) also were in double figures
Next up for Illinois is Chaminade (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2). The Division II tournament host upset Texas 86-73 in its opener. The Silverswords are 7-76 since the tournament begain in 1984.
A win in that game would put the Illini in the Maui championship game against Butler or No. 9 North Carolina, the tourney favorite.
Illinois lost the Maui championship game to Arizona in 2000, its highest finish in the prestigious early-season tournament. The Illini finished third in 1987 and 2007, their other Maui appearances.
The USC start was very different from Illinois’ first island game. It trailed Hawaii 44-28 early in the second half on Friday before surviving 78-77 in overtime on D.J. Richardson’s three-pointer at the buzzer.
``We were disappointed we didn’t get off to a better start Friday,’’ Groce said. ``I thought the start to the [USC] game was critical. I thought we came out and got off to a great start, had a lot of energy, and really moved the ball. It was a free‑flowing first half. I thought the tempo was to our liking. We got the ball up and down the floor, and guys made plays.’’