Rice scores 28 and Illinois gets past UIC
CHICAGO – Rayvonte Rice put on quite the show in his final tune-up before Big Ten play begins.
Rice led a furious second-half comeback on Saturday, scoring 28 points while playing suffocating defense as the University of Illinois beat the University of Illinois-Chicago 74-60.
Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Fighting Illini went on an 8-0 run over the first 1:04 of the second half to erase the deficit and seize momentum. Rice scored seven points in 58 seconds a few minutes later to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point lead —Illinois' first lead of the game.
The junior's left-handed layup at 13:24 tied the game at 53. His layup and 3-pointer on the ensuing possessions put the Illini in the driver's seat.
"He had to give us his best at both ends of the floor," Illinois head coach John Groce said. "It was one of his more complete performances of the year."
Rice also had seven rebounds and three assists. He has scored in double-digits every game this season.
Tracy Abrams scored 16, and Joseph Bertrand added 14 for Illinois (11-2), which has won four of its last five.
The Illini outrebounded UIC 24-14 in the second half, and committed just four turnovers the entire game — their last non-conference game of the regular season.
Illinois hosts Indiana on Tuesday to kick off its Big Ten schedule.
"Our guys are smart enough to know you have to have that fight for 40 minutes with what we're getting ready to start with season two on Tuesday," Groce said. "We can't afford to not fight defensively for the majority of a 40-minute game. Today we got away with that a little bit. We have to learn our lesson rather quickly."
UIC senior Kelsey Barlow led the Flames with 21 points, but scored just three in the second half when Rice switched over to guard him on defense.
"(Barlow) was going off in the first half," Rice said. "It's just a mentality. Being tough on the ball, trying to deny him, doing everything you can to keep him from scoring."
"I did what coach asked me to do. He just started to get rid of the ball a little bit more."
Barlow put the Illini defense on its toes right from the opening tip, scoring 14 of the Flames' first 18 points en route to an early 10-point cushion.
With the Illini's attention focused on Barlow, the floodgates opened up for his teammates, who shot 64.7 percent from the floor in the first half.
Marc Brown drained a pair of easy 3-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the first half when Illinois collapsed on Barlow, who drove into the paint only to dish it back out to a wide-open teammate.
"I went into halftime telling our guys we had probably just played our best half of basketball," UIC head coach Howard Moore said. "But I also warned them that there's going to be a storm in the second half. You've got to weather the storm, and you've got to be prepared for what's about to come."
UIC (5-9) was unable to sustain its success, shooting just 26.1 percent in the second half and going 5-for-9 from the free throw line. The Flames came in averaging 15.5 free throw attempts per game.
Barlow, Brown and Pat Birt, who combined for 35 points in the first half, scored just seven between them in the second.
"Rice kind of shut me down," Barlow said. "I just think my intensity went down in the second half. I could have controlled that a little bit better, I just didn't."
Barlow eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the fifth time this season and the Flames are 2-3 when he does so.
Though the United Center is less than two miles from the UIC Pavilion, the Flames were engulfed in a sea of orange-clad Illini fans.
Illinois has won 13 of 15 meetings all-time against UIC, and three of four at the United Center. The Illini are 35-12 overall at the United Center since the 1994-95 season.
UIC won 57-54 when the teams last met on Dec. 18, 2010. Illinois was ranked No. 12 at the time.