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Thorne Jr. looks to bounce back for Illini

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SPRINGFIELD — For the first two games of the college basketball season, Mike Thorne Jr. got shots to fall and got to dominate on the glass.

In his first taste as the University of Illinois’ new starting center, Thorne got a feel for what it’s like to be the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

Then Wednesday, in Game No. 3, he got a taste of frustration.

After averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds in a pair of games in Springfield, Thorne lined up at Providence hoping for more of the same. What he got was one of those “burn the tape” games that included zero points, two rebounds and five fouls in 13 minutes.

Saturday, back at Illinois' “home away from home” at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, coach John Groce hopes Thorne can view his nightmarish game at Providence as a learning experience when the Illini (1-2) meet Chattanooga (2-0) at 7:30 p.m.

“He can’t get frustrated,” Groce said. “We got him more touches in the first four or five minutes than I originally thought. And the thing that hampered him the most was the foul trouble.”

Providence had seen tape of Thorne dominating against North Florida and North Dakota State. So the Friars double-teamed him the moment he received an entry pass.

“There were fouls he has to stay away from,” Groce said. “It’s the mental part, just being able to get to the next play that’s in front of you, that’s the most important part of his growth and development.”

Chattanooga won 22 games last season and opened this year with a 92-90 overtime victory at Georgia. Casey Jones, a 6-5 senior, is averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds.

“They’re a veteran team, predicted to win their league, very athletic and they shoot it well from multiple positions,” Groce said. “They full-court press you for 40 minutes so we have to be ready for that.”

Groce said point guard Jaylon Tate continues to be “day to day” as he tries to bounce back from an open dislocation of his right little finger suffered last Friday.

“It’s going to be up to him and our doctors and I will trust their judgment,” Groce said. “He wants to be out there and our doctors want him to be out there.”

Groce said once Tate returns, and when Kendrick Nunn returns in mid-December from a hand injury, the player who should benefit is Malcolm Hill.

Hill has played all five positions defensively and every position but center offensively. At Providence, he played all 40 minutes and finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.

“These are desperate times and we’ve got some roster limitations and he’s willing to do whatever we ask of him to win games,” Groce said. “But long term, he’ll be much more efficient and freer of mind when we get some guys back.”

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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