Illini Overcome Sluggishness To Bury Yale

The Fighting Illini basketball team overcame early sluggishness to overwhelm Yale 73-47 in the Assembly Hall Tuesday night. A balanced scoring attack and sound defense helped the Illini overcome poor first half shooting. The Illini now travel to Western Michigan for a noon game Saturday.

P>The Illinois basketball team may have been tired from its long trip to New York. Maybe the fact UI students are on Thanksgiving break made a difference. Whatever, first half shooting was poor. However, head coach Bruce Weber praised a defense that held Yale to 17 first half points.

"I thought it wasn't as smooth as we would hope, especially offensively. But we found a way to guard. The biggest thing to me was we put up 42 up on the board on the Matto play-hard chart. All year we had 39, 38.

"I thought we were very active and didn't quit playing even though shots weren't going in. Brandon (Paul) had 9 in 17 minutes. Demetri (McCamey) had 8, and he only had 9 the entire year. So he almost doubled his amount in one game.

"I thought Demetri's defense in the first half was about as good a 16-17 minutes since he's been here. That was pretty positive. And we guarded for long extended parts. We talked about them being feisty and we had to grind out the game. We did that and got a lot of guys minutes and won a game."

Mike Tisdale echoed the words of his coach in reflecting on the Illini effort Tuesday night.

"We came out tonight with some energy. We had to create our own when the students aren't in town. It's hard to get energized. I'm pretty proud of the team. People are saying we need to be more physical, and they'd be right. We came out and did what we could.

Tisdale's shot wasn't falling early, but the Illini did make a concerted effort to get him the ball in positions to score. And he tied a career high with 13 rebounds including two on the offensive glass, to go with ten points on the night. He sees signs he believes will produce quality wins in the future.

"I'm happy but not satisfied. Obviously we need to improve in some areas. That's what good teams do, they keep getting better. Early season games, good teams lose and they end up going to the Final Four. I think if we can continue to improve, that's gonna be the best thing we can do.

"The exhibition games were kind of bad. We didn't keep the intensity up the whole game. Since then the focus has been two halves, the first five minutes of each half and really finishing it. Our motto is take no prisoners, no surrender. I think we need to continue that."

The Illini finished with 49.2% shooting accuracy, but that was after misfiring to the tune of 37.5% first half. Weber was pleased with second half progress.

"We guarded, we played hard, we had energy. But to make shots we always talk about the magic level, being in the 'Zone.' We weren't in that zone, and it got worse before it got better.

"Finally second half 61%, so we started picking it up a little bit. We got some transition, and I think our depth wore them down too. That's one thing we learned from last year, you can't let up on anybody. We talked about not letting down and taking no prisoners when you're ahead. That's what our philosophy has been."

D.J. Richardson led the Illini with 16 points, hitting 6-8 from the floor including 3 threes. But he was only 1-3 in the first half. Tisdale was 3-8, and Demetri McCamey just 2-7 from the floor. Richardson knew it was just a matter of time before the shooting straightened out.

"Sometimes you can't make shots. Tonight we started off kind of sluggish but picked it up second half."

Weber says that part of the first half problem was a lack of patience.

"Demetri forced a little in their pack. We didn't adjust to their packed defense; they were sitting in the lane waiting for us. We were a little impatient first half, second half a little better."

The game was never really in doubt despite the problems. The closest the Bulldogs got was 12-11 early in the first half. The Illini were up by 13 at the break. Yale whittled the deficit down to nine at 40-31, but an 8-0 Illini run hit the Bulldogs too fast for them to respond. Richardson hit a three, Mike Davis dunked a McCamey pass, Richardson completed a nice drive and Paul hit a free throw in the run. The Illini continued to extend the lead from there.

McCamey scored 11 points and led the Illini with 7 assists. Jereme Richmond and Davis each scored 9 points, Meyers Leonard chipped in with 8, and Paul contributed seven to the cause. Walkon Jean Selus saw his first action and hit a free throw. For the game, the Illini held the Bulldogs to 28.6% shooting.

Illinois now has a day off for Thanksgiving before heading off to Western Michigan for a noon tilt Saturday. It will be the Illini's first real road game, and the Broncos are sure to have a rabid crowd eager to see an upset. Weber hopes the Illini can play well despite the hostile environment.

"Now you see if you can bottle that and take it to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and win a road game."

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