Illinois Coach Bruce Weber lamented how his Illini had trouble getting out of the gate at the beginning of both halves and the overtime at Madison Square Garden.
"We didn't start the game well, didn't start the second half well and didn't start the overtime well. We told them (in the overtime) if we get behind right away like we did in the second half, we're not gonna have time to catch up. And that was the telling story."
The Illini may have been ranked ahead of Texas, but the Longhorns had the advantage in quickness, length and athleticism. And despite their youth the Longhorns played well defensively and made clutch plays throughout the game.
In contrast, the Illini seemed lethargic on defense first half. They didn't have the same bounce they demonstrated in their three home games. But some of that was Texas, who made them look slow and sluggish at times. The Longhorns beat the Illini at their own game.
"When it came down to it, they out toughed us," Weber acknowledged. "We had our hands on balls, and they out fought us. We didn't play smart. Their quickness really bothered us; I don't think we were ready for it. We didn't do a good job of containing their dribble, and they're going to the free throw line."
The Illini shot 50% first half, but they tailed off from then on, finishing at 38.9%. They hit some early threes but couldn't sustain it as they rarely worked the ball inside for easier shots according to Weber.
"Too many threes. We can't shoot that many threes. It's fool's gold when you make a couple early. You keep going to them and it costs you. We've got to be more patient and get to the basket.
"We got some rebounds offensively, but they just killed us on the boards, especially on free throws early in the second half. Three or four second chance points."
The first half saw several lead changes as both teams shot well. A Mike Tisdale three boosted the Illini into a 45-45 tie at the half. Texas went on a 9-0 run to begin the second half, but the Illini finally caught up at 63 when Mike Davis made one of two free throws.
Tisdale fouled out with 6:44 left in regulation, but the Illini seemed to fare better with a smaller lineup. Demetri McCamey's two free throws gave the Illini their first second half lead 69-68, but constant fouling gave Texas the points to keep it close.
Cory Joseph's jumper making it 75-73 was the Longhorn's first basket in over seven minutes, but Jereme Richmond drove the lane and used a shot fake to free himself for a bank to tie it at 75-75 at the end of regulation. It was all Texas in overtime.
McCamey played extremely well for the Illini and demonstrated his senior savvy and maturity. He tallied 22 points, grabbed six rebounds and added seven assists, five in the first half. The Illini, who are known for their large assist totals, had only three other assists the entire game.
"We had 10 assists," Weber lamented. "It's got to change. We've got to be a team, not individuals."
D.J. Richardson scored 15 points but hit only 4 of 12 shots. Brandon Paul added 12 points on 5-16 shooting, and Richmond scored 11 to go with 5 rebounds. Richmond played a major portion of the game. He did some things well but made a number of mistakes. Davis grabbed 13 boards but scored only 8. Bill Cole hit a couple big threes late and finished with 9 points.
Texas was led by super soph Jordan Hamilton, who scored 18 of his 27 points in the first half. Freshman post player Tristan Thompson consistenly hit his lefty turnaround and totaled 20 points despite missing 8 of 12 free throw attempts. Gary Johnson scored 14 points for the victors, and Cory Joseph added 9.
The Illini now face Maryland at 4:00 pm Central time Friday. Since the semifinal game finished late, the Illini have little time to rest for the consolation game. Weber has his work cut out for him.
"We've got to play tomorrow. We've got to see what happens. We came here to see how good we were, what we were about. We failed the first test, now we've got to see what we're really about, what we can do against Maryland on a short turnaround. It's a tough situation, but we put ourselves in this bind.
"We played a lot of guys a lot of minutes. We haven't had success against Maryland the last three times. We're gonna have to use the bench, see if those guys can respond."