Illini See Double As Kansas Pulls Away At End

The Fighting Illini basketball team ended its season with a 73-59 loss to the mighty Kansas Jayhawks at Tulsa Sunday night in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini battled but couldn't handle KU's inside power. They needed a hot shooting night but couldn't get it. The Illini finish the season with a 20-14 record.

Illinois fought hard throughout the game. In the end, their downfall was the inside combination of twins Markeiff and Marcus Morris and the speed and depth on the perimeter. Illini coach Bruce Weber hated to see the season end but praised Kansas.

"Anytime it comes to an end, it's very disappointing. I thought the last month we had kind of brought it back together and were playing pretty good basketball.

"But we faced a team that's special. They have very talented players. The thing that makes them special is they also play hard. They're talented players that play hard all the time. They've got some glue guys, and they seem to be a great team."

With the loss, the Illini say goodbye to seniors Bill Cole, Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. They had their ups and downs, but they never gave up.

"I couldn't be more proud of our seniors," Weber stated. "Great representatives of our university, quality kids. Two are on line to graduate, and two I hope have it in their minds to graduate. I think they'll have a great future."

Assistant coach Jay Price also made a point to emphasize senior contributions.

"I thought they all battled tonight. They've battled for four years, and they've done a fantastic job. You're always gonna miss the guys when they leave. I know they're all gonna be successful in whatever they do."

The Illini were tight at the outset. The Jayhawks took advantage, bursting out to an 18-6 lead before a Brandon Paul three stopped the bleeding. But the Illini fought back to trail just 33-29 at the break. Weber summarized the first half.

"I thought early we shot it too quick. They got the big lead on us because we weren't patient enough. We didn't play as a team and put them on defense, which was one of the things we talked about. Because then they get in transition. They got rolling and got some (lob dunks) early and got some late. We just gave them too many opportunities."

The Illini continued to battle through most of the second half. But every time they got close, they would either miss a shot or give up an open look to allow Kansas to extend its lead. They just couldn't make plays when most needed according to Weber.

"We didn't quit. We had it at four at halftime, we had it at 4-5 several times second half. We needed them to maybe make a mistake or two. Or somebody make a big shot or something happen. It didn't, and they just took over down the stretch.

"We thought we had to have an extra special effort. Somebody had to go crazy and make a bunch of shots."

That never materialized. The Illini were 15-0 this season when point guard McCamey had 7 or more assists, until tonight. He dished out 7 but scored only six points and had four turnovers in one of his most frustrating efforts. He hit 2 of 9 shots from the field, forcing some when he felt hungry to get on a roll.

Credit goes to Kansas for learning how best to stifle his favorite moves. Blocking penetration and doubling on ball screens, McCamey had nowhere to turn. When he isn't making shots and providing energy, the offense stagnates and he ends up dribbling on the perimeter with nowhere to go.

McCamey did respond on the defensive end. He even got two steals as he tried to find other ways of helping the team. But the Illini needed their best player to make plays, and tonight he couldn't do it. Davis was impressed with the KU defense.

"Kansas is a disciplined defense. Coach (Bill) Self runs a great system on their defensive end. They stay in front of you, don't gamble and make you make shots. We didn't make shots."

The Illini shot only 38% from the field when they needed to hit 50% to stay in the game. But they played good defense for the most part. That is, except when it came to guarding twin towers Marcus and Markieff Morris.

Markieff scored a game high 24 points, while Marcus added 17. Both pulled down 12 rebounds in a dominant performance. They had too much strength and athleticism for the Illini front line.

"They're not lottery projections for nothing," Davis reminded. "They're great players. They made some tough turnarounds. They play together. Those two play the high-low and play together. They were physical and made some tough shots, and their guards got it to them. They make their team go."

Tisdale hit only 4 of 14 shots as he struggled inside against Morris power.

"Obviously they're good players," Tisdale understated. "They made plays when they needed to, they made shots and rebounds. We've got to give them credit. They're good players, and they played tough tonight."

One bright spot for the Illini was D.J. Richardson. After being in a prolonged slump, his last two games will give him good memories to take into the off season. He scored 15 points including 3 of 8 threes. He also had three steals. Price noted his effort afterward.

"D.J. made some shots when we needed it."

Davis led the Illini with 24 points and 7 rebounds. Tisdale grabbed 11 boards to go with his 13 points. He added one block, giving him 176 for his career, one behind Deon Thomas, the Illinois career leader. Crandall Head played just six minutes but helped the cause with two big assists.

Weber reminded that the future is bright at Illinois despite the loss.

"We have some young talented kids and hopefully a bright future for our program."

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