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Illinois basketball’s Tate proving worth after 86-62 win

Illinois guard Joseph Bertr(2) drives past Jacksonville State's Jamal Hunter (32) during first half an NCAA college basketball game Sunday

Illinois guard Joseph Bertrand (2) drives past Jacksonville State's Jamal Hunter (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)

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Updated: November 10, 2013 10:12PM

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois’ veterans made their marks on an 86-62 victory over Jacksonville State, no question about it.

With 20 points and 10 rebounds, senior guard Joseph Bertrand had his first career double-double. With five blocked shots, junior center Nnanna Egwu set a career high.

Junior point guard Tracy Abrams took control of the game with a second-half offensive spurt, scoring 12 points over a six-minute stretch in which the Illini (2-0) extended their lead from 14 to 27.

But their efforts were eclipsed here on Sunday — certainly not by the Gamecocks (0-2) but rather by Illini freshman Jaylon Tate.

In 25 minutes off the bench, the point guard from Simeon had 10 points and eight assists, with only one turnover. Beyond the numbers, he simply played like someone who belongs in a significant role on a pretty good team in a very strong conference. That was true on Friday night against Alabama State and has been since Tate set foot on campus.

“He’s a pro’s pro, which is very rare for someone his age,” said Illini coach John Groce.

Of Illinois’ five freshmen in a strong recruiting class, Tate may have ranked No. 5 in both his standing with recruiting analysts and hype among Illini fans. It’s obvious already, though, that he’ll have as big a role as any of them. Malcolm Hill looks promising. Maverick Morgan, Austin Colbert and Kendrick Nunn are coming along more slowly.

Nunn, like Tate a Simeon guard, definitely was the higher-rated prospect of the two. As he struggles on defense and looks unsure of himself at times offensively — typical freshman stuff — Tate is thriving.

Groce has a saying: “Freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to score, and seniors want to win.”

Not every player can be put into one of those boxes, though. Two games into his Illini career, Tate seems to have a lot figured out.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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