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(Champaign, IL) -The McKendree Men’s Basketball team played a strong first half Thursday night in their Exhibition opener against Illinois at the State Farm Center.

Playing their first ever game in Champaign, the Bearcats built an 11-point lead in the first half to give the Fighting Illini a scare, but fell 101-66.

Despite the outcome, McKendree 48th-year head coach Harry Statham was pleased with his team’s effort, especially in the first half when the Bearcats went into the locker room with just an 8-point deficit.

“I thought in the first half we did a very, very good job,” Statham said in his postgame press conference.  “We came out and attacked and tried to be aggressive.  We expected a lot and they (Illinois) gave it to us.”

McKendree’s play, particularly in the first half, caught the eye of second-year Illinois head coach John Groce, who had high praise for the Bearcats after the game in his postgame press conference.

“I want to give Harry’s team a lot of credit,” Groce remarked.  “They came out very confident, very aggressive.  They came at us and made shots early.”

Returning four starters from their 2012-13 squad, the Bearcats showed no signs of jitters while playing in front of 13,000 fans against a premier Division I team.  Senior guard Clinton Hoppe, who finished third in the GLVC in scoring last season with 18 points per game, paced the McKendree offense with 15 points.

“We came into the game expecting to win,” Hoppe said postgame.  “I thought we played well and this is a game that can really help us going forward.  This is probably going to be the best team we play all year.”

McKendree finishes up their Exhibition season on Sunday at Missouri State in Springfield.  The Bearcats open up the regular season on Nov. 8th at home against Central Christian College. GLVC play begins at home on Jan. 3rd against UMSL.

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