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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Malcolm Hill made sure Illinois didn't step off the gas pedal Friday night so that the Illini could took care of business against Detroit Mercy, 89-69.
The senior, who scored 25 points, led his team to a quick start after the intermission, when his team was up 39-30 and it seemed like the Titans would close the gap even more.
"I'm always in an aggressive attack more, but this was one of those games where I needed to start strong in the second half," Hill said.
Illinois (4-0) continued its strong start to the season in the opening game of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament.
The Illini had little trouble scoring, shooting 27of 52 from the field and 8 of 19 from 3-point range. Friday marked the second straight game the Illini had difficulty shooting from the free throw line however, finishing 27of 38.
Tracy Abrams continued to have a strong return to basketball, scoring 15 points and finishing with four rebounds, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
Groce knows the importance a balanced offense can have on his team.
"If you can have a balance of paint touches with that outside shooting, it puts opponents in dilemmas," Groce said.
Detroit Mercy (1-2) had trouble keeping up with Illinois' fast offensive pace from the start of the game. The Titans never led.
Josh McFolley and Jaleel Hogan both led the way with 16 points for a team that finished shooting 43 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc.
The Titans fell behind in most categories against the Illini, but Detroit Mercy head coach Bacari Alexander felt Illinois won the game down in the post, where the Illini won the rebound battle 39-29.
"They took advantage of those opportunities (in the post)," Alexander said. "(But) I like the direction this team is going in."
Illinois: The Illini have played as they should against the type of opponents they've faced so far this year. The team has one game left against relatively easy competition before facing No. 19 West Virginia at the Barclays Center in New York.
Detroit Mercy: Although the game was never really close after the first few minutes, the Titans found some scoring opportunities and will need to continue to do that in the rest of the tournament.
Groce thought bench player D.J. Williams had his best overall performance of the year. The sophomore wing scored six points.
After a strong start to the season, center Maverick Morgan had his worst night of the season, finishing with six points and zero rebounds and fouling out with more than five minutes left in the game.
Illinois will continue play in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament when it hosts Winthrop in Champaign on Monday.
Detroit Mercy will try to bounce back Monday when it travels to Florida State to play its second game in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
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