Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who saw his Illini play 40 minutes of tough, aggressive ball at Minnesota Thursday, expected the same effort on the home court. Purdue is an outstanding team, but the UI let down defensively second half. Weber was disconsolate afterward but credited the Boilermakers.
"They're good; they're a top 13 team. You hope you've got a great crowd, Sunday afternoon, CBS audience, you hope you play your butts off. So it's very disappointing."
Several Illini played extremely hard. At one point, Mike Davis was seen challenging Purdue players and responding with great intensity. He scored 16 points, added 7 rebounds and earned a place in front of the media afterward. He explained the difference between the big win at Minnesota and Sunday's loss to Purdue.
"We didn't play as hard. We had 46 on the Matto (play-hard chart) up there, and we only had 25 (today). That was the difference in the game. They beat us on our home court on the Matto. We've got to take pride at home and at least play hard. They beat us on the boards; they out-toughed us."
Weber sounded like a broken record when describing the Illini's lack of consistent play from one game to the next.
"The thing that's disappointing, we go to Minnesota and talk about laying it all on the line. We played with unbelievable energy. Now we come home. I thought we played well first half, but there were loose balls we didn't dive on. All I wrote on the board was, 'Give it your all and defend.' Some of those plays could have been a big difference-maker.
"We've got a lot of offensive-minded guys. When they don't make a shot, maybe they don't give quite the effort on the other end."
The Illini shot a respectable 44% from the field for the game. But Demetri McCamey, supposedly the best player, made one of ten shots and handed out only four assists. Perhaps he was one of those Weber was thinking about. Davis confirmed afterward some players didn't play as hard as others.
"We've got to come out with energy. We've got to feel it within ourselves. Me and D.J. (Richardson) and Brandon (Paul) played hard. If the other two guys don't play hard, you can't control that.
"Coach got into us at halftime. We were winning, and they were yelling like we were down. He got into us. We told ourselves to go out there and play hard. 54 points the second half on our home court. You're not gonna win many games doing that.
"Second half they just took it to us. They turned it up on us. They got some easy buckets. It's on us. We've got to do a better job on defense.
"We knew it was gonna be tough. They're one of the best teams in the country. They've got those two All-American type players who play well, and the other guys play their roles and play hard. We didn't play as hard as we should have played."
It appeared the Illini would be able to duplicate their Minnesota effort, zooming out to a quick 7-0 lead. And they fought hard enough to take a 32-27 lead into halftime. Second half was an entirely different story.
Purdue went on a 10-0 run to take a 39-36 lead. The Boilermakers continued to maintain a slight edge, but the Illini stayed within striking distance at the midway point of the second half. That's where a sequence of unforced errors gave PU the opportunity to put the game away.
Trailing 50-46, Paul chose to pull up for three on a fast break. It missed, and Ryne Smith hit his three to reverse the momentum. On consecutive possessions, Paul failed to see Mike Tisdale's back turned to him before throwing away a pass; McCamey committed a turnover on a pass; McCamey missed a dunk; and Bill Cole missed a layup. Purdue was up 11 before Paul finally stopped the cycle with a three.
Weber knew Purdue would go on a run; he didn't know the Illini would open the door wide for them.
"We told our guys that when you watch them, there's always one point in the game where they just turn it up. They turned it up, and we did not match the energy."
The Illini have not matched fan expectations this year, and they criticize the coaches and players for everything they dislike, as if those things caused the failure. Weber is responsive to the criticism, to a point. For instance, he tried to change his courtside behavior. The experiment was short-lived.
"I wish (the players) had a little more fire in their belly. People call and email and say I yell too much. I try to sit and relax and not do stuff. At Minnesota I said, 'The heck with it. I'm gonna coach, be myself, bust my butt, get them to play hard. I don't care if I break clipboards, whatever you have to do to get them going.' It worked there; we just didn't get enough mustard here."
Weber went back to starting his four seniors after leaving McCamey and Tisdale on the bench to begin the Gopher game. He bristled when asked about the change.
"We were up 7-0 to start, and we were winning at halftime. So it was a good move by me, put that on there. It was the energy level second half. When they come at you, you've got to match that level of energy."
Weber tells it like it is. He is honest to a fault, but he is often misunderstood. He felt a need to clarify recent comments about the outside influences affecting McCamey lately.
"When you tell the truth, sometimes people don't understand, and then I get ripped. Maybe I shouldn't say anything because everything gets twisted. If you tell the truth, then they question you.
"It's college basketball. There's a lot of influence, whether it's uncles, cousins, relatives, neighbors, whatever. Everyone has something to say. And there's also the factor of other outside people. There's so much clutter in kids' brains instead of just come here, listen and be coachable. I think it all takes a toll, the pressure on yourself."
McCamey's midseason slump continues as his senior season winds down. Weber empathizes with him.
"Demetri struggled. It's sad for him; we need him to play better. I don't know if it's mental, but Demetri looks like he's got the weight of the world on his back. I feel bad for him, he's a better player than that. He was a better player two months ago. He definitely was a better player last year when we played Purdue. Maybe we can get him snapped out before it's too late."
Purdue rotated several hard-nosed defenders on McCamey, and he found few if any uncontested shots to his liking. When he penetrated, he got his shots blocked. Weber has a solution, if only he can get his star to do it.
"One thing he's got to do is jump-stop in the lane and just make the easy play. Play simple basketball. Throw it to the open man. You can dribble to the basket and create, but then you've got to jump-stop and throw it to the open man."
Paul came off the bench to score a career high 23 points. He added 4 boards, two assists and two steals. Richardson hit 5 of 9 shots including a couple threes for a 13 point total. He may be finally emerging from his slump. Tisdale scored 9 points and had 6 rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
No other Illini had more than four points. In contrast, Purdue stars JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore had 24 and 20 points respectively, and Lewis Jackson reached double figures with 10. In addition, role players Smith, Terone Johnson and Kelsey Barlow hustled on defense, grabbed rebounds and scored between 7 and 9 points each. The balance was too much for the Illini to counter.
The Illini are despondent after the loss, but they must somehow put it out of their minds according to Davis.
"We can't keep thinking about this game. We've got a tough Michigan team Wednesday with the same number of wins as us. That will be a tough game also."
In fact, Weber reminds the whole week promises to be difficult in the rugged Big 10.
"We've got a very tough game against Michigan Wednesday. They have played as well as anybody down the stretch here. And then going to Michigan State, it's a big week."
If the Illini aren't careful, they could let present feelings carry over to the next game. If so, this could be a lost week. Weber and his staff have their work cut out for them to keep their guys competitive and confident the rest of the season.