Entering the 2015-16 season, the North Florida Ospreys were looking to build off of last season’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament, while the Illinois Fighting Illini were hoping to overcome their injuries and stay competitive.
North Florida returned the vast majority of their core from last year, while Illinois was without two of its top guards on opening night, and were relying on a new point guard to run the offense. Add those two together, and the recipe for an upset was written all over this contest.
When the final buzzer went off, the returning core of the Ospreys was too much for the new-look Illini roster. North Florida knocked off Illinois on opening night, 93 – 81, in Springfield, IL.
Early on, the Ospreys were leaving their mark from three point range, with Beau Beech and Dallas Moore each hitting two before the first media timeout. Illinois was trying to stay competitive, thanks to Malcolm Hill and Charlotte-transfer Mike Thorne, Jr., but the Ospreys always had an answer. North Florida led 16 – 9 at the first media timeout.
Out of the media timeout, Illinois would go on a 10 – 4 run to trim the deficit to just three points, but that was as close as they would get from there on out in the first half. North Florida continued to hit the three pointers, with Trent Mackey getting into the action along with Beech and Moore.
To add a little salt to the wound, Moore hit a jumper at the buzzer to send the Ospreys into the half on a high note, and with a 47 – 34 lead in tow.
Illinois opened the second half with six quick points in the opening minute, all by Thorne, to cut the deficit to 10 with plenty of time left for a comeback. But, they had no answers on defense for the long ball. Five of North Florida’s first seven baskets of the half were from three point range, and their lead stretched to as much as 19.
Maverick Morgan hit two jumpers for Illinois to try and bring the team back, but North Florida always had an answer. The Illini trailed by 20 at the first media timeout of the half.
Credit John Groce and Illinois for not giving up, as they were able to get to within 9 points with just over 6 minutes to play in the game. That was as close as they would get. North Florida always had an answer for the Illini, and they never relinquished the lead.
North Florida led from start to finish on opening night, cruising to the 93 – 81 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Illini outscored the Ospreys in the second half, 47 – 46, but a dismal first half put them in a hole that they were never able to overcome.
The Ospreys had four players score in double-figures, led by guard Dallas Moore who recorded a double-double of 26 points and 10 assists in the win. Beau Beech added in 25 points, and Demarcus Daniels came off the bench to record 13 points and 9 rebounds.
As for Illinois, they got two double-double performances from Mike Thorne, Jr (25 points, 14 rebounds) and Malcolm Hill (20 points, 10 rebounds), but were unable to translate them into a victory.
The game was played at Illinois’ temporary home in Springfield, IL, as the State Farm Center in Champaign, IL is being renovated. Illinois will return home on December 2nd against Notre Dame.
North Florida (1-0) will head home for their home-opener on Monday, when they welcome the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros to town. As for Illinois (0-1), they will welcome North Dakota State to Springfield, IL on Sunday looking for their first win of the year.