Illinois did it's part in the Big 10/ACC Shootout by defeating North Carolina. The Big 10 is now 4-2 in the competition with five games remaining. It is always special when the Illini defeat a fabled program like UNC, but head coach Bruce Weber took the win in stride.
"It's a good win for us, and great for the league. We did our part; we took care of business at home."
Tar Heel coach Roy Williams was magnanimous in defeat.
"Congratulations to Bruce and his team. I think Bruce Weber is one of the best coaches around and truly one of the greatest guys around."
North Carolina boasts 7 McDonald's All-Americans on its roster, but most of its talent is in its freshman and sophomore classes. Illini seniors Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole don't always satisfy hungry fans, but they made a difference according to Williams. Especially McCamey.
"Their experience, Demetri was something else. I know it might not have been his best game statistically, but we're trying to make a comeback and he makes two shots with the clock running down. He never looked like he felt pressure. Davis was really good too, but I just think Demetri controlled the basketball game.
"To me, the game in a nutshell was their veteran, experienced, good players played like veteran, experienced, good players. And Demetri I thought was just sensational."
Weber also praised McCamey, who controlled tempo and added two steals with improved defense. But the point guard preferred to talk about a team game, including the fact Tisdale, Jereme Richmond and D.J. Richardson joined him and Davis in double figures with 14, 12 and 11 points respectively.
"I think we're pretty good, but at the same time we can get better. We're not a perfect team by any means. We played with energy tonight, and that carried us to a win. It's real balanced scoring. As long as we keep playing as a team and listening to Coach Weber, the sky is the limit for this team."
Davis had a poor practice Monday but made up for it Tuesday night. Besides his double-double, he also dished out five assists and had three steals. He admitted he had a hot hand, but he also spoke about teamwork.
"I felt energy. I had a hot motor all night. Coach said he needed me, and I played well. We played good defense tonight, we hit shots. We played an all-around solid game, everybody and not just one person."
Richmond added 5 rebounds and an assist to his point total in perhaps the best game of his young Illini career. And he had shared the task of holding star Tar Heel freshman Harrison Barnes to 8 points on 2-9 shooting. Richmond sent the crowd into a frenzy with a baseline drive and double pump dunk over UNC's seven footer Tyler Zeller. He felt pressure to step up and did.
"It was such a big crowd. To be a part of it, you've got to grow up fast."
He also preferred to talk team over self.
"Nobody had their own agenda, and I think that's what carried us to victory."
Williams felt a big factor in the outcome was the Illini defense, especially in the second half.
"Illinois is really good defensively. We didn't make good decisions, but sometimes we made bad decisions because they had us back on our heels. I think their defense was so much more aggressive than our offense was sharp. We turned it over way too many times. They had 26 points off our turnovers. Illinois played a heck of a lot better tonight than we did."
It didn't start out that way. The Illini appeared tentative and were having problems finding the bottom of the basket. Still, they pulled ahead 19-14 right after Zeller got his third foul. He had found the inside wide open for lay-ins and dunks prior to that.
UNC had a chance to reduce the deficit to two points at the end of the first half but couldn't do so. Weber feels the Illini finally found their sea legs.
"I think the first half we were too carried away emotionally, trying to do stuff on our own. And then we started moving the basketball, getting some cutting action, putting them in a bind a little.
"And then I thought the big play was the end of the half. Demetri makes a great pass, D.J. makes the shot. And then we come out and make the first basket of the second half with the Davis dunk.
"We did a little better job containing the dribble, and then our post guys did a little better job inside, not just letting those guys control the paint. Our play-hard was way up the second half compared to the first, and that led to some easy baskets for us. We did a better job moving the basketball second half. And I think we had as good a post feeding as we've had in quite awhile.
"When Demetri got going second half, we got transition, got stops, got steals. That's when we were at our best.
"We talk about playing in a zone, at that magic level. But how do you do that? You've got to concentrate, you have to have discipline. We had no discipline in the first half. Once we settled down and started doing the stuff we practiced, I think we got going. And then the crowd got into it and really took control of the game."
The Illini can't rest on their laurels. They leave Thursday for Seattle in preparation for Gonzaga Saturday. It is as big a game as North Carolina, so they need to play at least as well. There's no rest for the weary.