CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Jacob Grandison scored a career-high 20 points as short-handed No. 11 Illinois opened the season by rolling past Jackson State 71-47 on Tuesday night.
Grandison and Da’Monte Williams, both fifth-year seniors, were the only returning starters on the floor, but the Illini didn’t look out of sync.
Sophomore Coleman Hawkins had a career-high 13 points and eight rebounds for the Illini.
Illinois guard Andre Curbelo was ruled out shortly before the game with an injury. Star center Kofi Cockburn (three-game suspension), Trent Frazier (shoulder) and Austin Hutcherson (tailbone) were also sidelined.
“I knew we had a lot of scorers out, but my mentality wasn’t even to come in and score at all,” Grandison said. “It was to know my assignment on defense first, knowing the scouting report. I got in foul trouble early and I didn’t let that affect me.
“And I was just hooping.”
Hawkins, a forward, occasionally handled point guard duties in Curbelo’s absence.
He drilled a 3 to put the Illini up 21-2 midway through the first half off a Tigers mishap, one of 14 first-half turnovers that led to 13 points for Illinois.
“My expectation for Coleman is probably a lot higher than his is,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He has no idea how good he’s going to be.”
Underwood also praised the versatility of Grandison, who finished 7 of 10 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range.
“Jake took over in a stretch, and you see what he’s added to his game with his off-the-bounce game,” Underwood said.
Jayveous McKinnis and Jonas James scored 11 points apiece for Jackson State.
Illinois showcased its depth while missing three likely starters in Cockburn, Curbelo and Frazier. Strong performances from Grandison and Hawkins bode well for a frontcourt that is unproven beyond Cockburn. The Illini held a 45-35 edge in rebounds while limiting the Tigers to 37.3% shooting.
Jackson State: At Louisiana Tech on Friday.
Illinois: Hosts Arkansas State on Friday.