Freshman guard Brandon Paul scored 22 points, and No. 23 Illinois rolled to a 96-69 victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Friday night.
The Illini, ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2005, shot 55.4 percent from the field and scored their most points in a game since 105 against Longwood in 2004.
Paul and D.J. Richardson were the first freshmen to start for Illinois since Brian Randle in 2003. It also marked the first time that more than one freshman was in the Illini's starting lineup since the trio of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and James Augustine in 2002.
Denykco Bowles, Aamir McCleary and Stephen Jones had 13 points each for SIU-Edwardsville (0-1), which shot just 34.5 percent.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber's teams have been known for their stellar defense, and they didn't let up against an overmatched in-state opponent.
Seven-foot-1 junior Mike Tisdale made his presence known in the paint, grabbing six rebounds with three blocks _ including rejections on SIU-Edwardsville's first two possessions of the game to set the tone for the defense. Junior forward Mike Davis returned to
The guard play of Richardson and Paul thrilled the crowd at Assembly Hall. Richardson was nursing a sore right shooting elbow after hyper extending it at the end of practice on Thursday, but still finished with 14 points, four assists and no turnovers.
The Cougars struggled to find a way to slow down the suddenly explosive Illini offense, which scored 19 points off turnovers.
While the Illini were known last year for slow-paced and low-scoring games, the transition game was up-tempo with energy to spare against SIU-Edwardsville, leading to easy baskets and dunks. Four players scored in double digits with 11 had at least two points.
The win marked the 11th straight home opener win for the Illini.
The Illini's Jeff Jordan was forced to sit out the game as part of a two game suspension by the NCAA for playing in an unsanctioned event during the summer.