Kendrick Nunn sat out the first five games of the season. Friday, he showed how much the Illini missed him.
The junior guard, who was slated to be out till mid-December after tearing a ligament in his thumb during preseason practice, scored 18 points in his first action of the year, leading the Illini to their first somewhat-comfortable win of the season, a 72-58 victory over UAB in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.
Nunn had 10 of his points in the first half, where the Illini limited the Blazers — who played in last season's NCAA tournament — to just 23 points.
After going back and forth for much of the first 20 minutes, Illinois used a 9-0 run to create some separation, getting six of those points from Nunn. The Illini led by five at the half, their first lead at the half this season.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]
Up by nine six minutes into the second half, the Illini went on another run, this one 18-10 to build a 17-point advantage, getting six points from Maverick Morgan during the stretch and hanging on from there for a comfortable win.
Illinois shot 48.2 percent on the night, but it was the defense that showed up after a struggle of a start to the season. The Illini forced 16 UAB turnovers and limited the Blazers to 38.8-percent shooting and just five 3-pointers.
Nunn hit three 3-pointers en route to his 18-point scoring performance, adding five rebounds and a pair of steals. Three other Illini joined Nunn in double figures, Malcolm Hill, Morgan and Leron Black all scoring 12 points. Hill added six assists, four rebounds and four steals. Morgan's 12 points were a career high. Black was also back in action after sitting out the last game against Chicago State.
The Illini improved to 3-3 with the win and will face No. 4 Iowa State on Saturday in the Emerald Coast Classic.