Illinois' guard Rayvonte Rice (24) falls over Kennesaw State's forward Nigel Pruitt (1) while going after a loose ball during an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)
Robin Scholz
December 27, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois coach John Groce is confident his team is ready for Big Ten conference play after crushing nonconference foe Kennesaw State 93-45 on Saturday.

Rayvonte Rice led Illinois (10-3) with 21 points. Malcolm Hill chipped in 16 points and nine rebounds while Aaron Cosby added 13 points.

The Fighting Illini opens conference play on Tuesday at Michigan.

''I think we took a big step, maturity-wise, tonight,'' Groce said. ''Being a year older is no guarantee, of course, but we played with passion and intensity tonight. Now it's on to Michigan and `Season Two' on Tuesday.''

Yonel Brown and Damien Wilson each scored 10 points to lead Kennesaw State (4-10). Wilson also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

Illinois went on a 25-0 run at the end of the first half that spanned more than 10 minutes. Rice, who leads the Illini with 17.4 points per game, scored 16 in the first half. Due to the lopsided score, Rice sat the final 13 minutes of the game.

''We need to bring it every game,'' Rice said. ''Any team can win on any given night in this game. We can't take anything for granted.''

Kennesaw coach Jimmy Lallathin took the defeat in stride. ''Well, that was big boy versus little boy, wasn't it?'' he said. ''We certainly took our medicine tonight. We can't wait to get to Tennessee on Wednesday, where the team across from us will look a little more like us.''

Illinois shot 58.8 percent from the field (20-of-34) in the half, and ended the game shooting 55.4 percent (36-of-65).

''Illinois should do very well in the Big Ten,'' Lallathin said. ''I mean, they really shot it tonight. But we really enjoyed our time here, I think.''

Kennesaw State shot 17.9 percent in the first half (5-of-28), and finished at 24.6 percent (15-of-61). The Owls have lost six of their last seven games and are 1-7 on the road this season.

''Like Ray (Rayvonte Rice) said, we have to take it one game at a time,'' Groce said. ''We ran hard and we did some good things tonight. The huge crowd (16,000-plus) on Christmas break with no students on campus really helped us out. We have great fans, and that added to our intensity and passion tonight.''

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TIP-INS

Kennesaw State: Since moving to Division I during the 2009-10 season, the Owls have won just six nonconference road games, their most recent coming against Youngstown State this season.

Illinois: Rice has scored in double figures in all 27 games as an Illini player against nonconference opponents. Illinois has won 36 nonconference games in a row at State Farm Center, the nation's third-longest active streak.

UP NEXT

Illinois visits Michigan to open conference play on Tuesday.

Kennesaw State visits Tennessee State on Wednesday.

LAST SECOND

Rice's game-winning 3-point buzzer-beater to beat Missouri on Dec. 20 marked the fourth buzzer-beater of Groce's Illinois tenure.

ROAD WARRIORS

Illinois opens Big Ten play with four out of five games on the road. Illinois plays 10 of 14 games on the road in a stretch that started Nov. 27 and ends Jan. 14.

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