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Illini get around to cleaning the glass in win over Valpo

Illinois' Joseph Bertr(2) shoots as Valparaiso Crusaders' Vashil Fernandez (14) defends during first half an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday

Illinois' Joseph Bertrand (2) shoots as Valparaiso Crusaders' Vashil Fernandez (14) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday Nov. 13, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Darrell Hoemann)

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Updated: November 14, 2013 12:24AM

If a young Illinois team lacking depth in the frontcourt is going to hang in there this season — and maybe even make a run at another NCAA tournament berth — it’ll have to be greater than the sum of its parts on the backboards.

On Sunday night in Champaign, Illinois was manhandled on the glass, allowing 25 offensive rebounds against a small, skinny Jacksonville State team. The Illini won anyway.

The test was greater Wednesday at the State Farm Center, but the Illini came through, outrebounding long, strong Valparaiso 49-36 in a 64-52 victory.

The Crusaders (2-1) have few faces back from the 2012-13 squad that won the Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles, but three of their regulars range from 6-10 to 7-0 and from 235 to 270 pounds. Making matters more challenging, Illinois’ lone veteran big man, Nnanna Egwu, fouled out.

Senior Jon Ekey, a graduate transfer from Illinois State, and junior Rayvonte Rice, playing his third game for the Illini (3-0) after transferring from Drake, made those problems go away. The 6-7 Ekey — whom no one will ever describe as a specimen — had 15 rebounds, several of them tap-outs on the offensive end. And Rice, a 6-4 powerhouse of a guard, pulled down eight boards to go along with his game-high 18 points.

Ekey’s and Rice’s efforts would’ve made Roger Powell proud, were he not on the Valpo bench as an assistant to coach Bryce Drew. Powell, who was a senior starter on the 2004-05 Illini team that reached the national final, was undersized in his role as a 6-6 power forward.

“I asked Roger Powell to put away his Illinois stuff for 24 hours,” Drew joked with reporters. “He did a great job for Illinois and does a great job for us.”


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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