Illini Grind Out Win Over Coppin State

All the signs pointed to a letdown game. 8 days off. Finals week. A sweep through the tough part of the non-conference season. Facing a team that specialized in zone defenses. And the Illini got exactly what they expected, in a 61-42 victory over Coppin State at the Assembly Hall Sunday afternoon.

The Illini spent the first seven minutes of the game feeling out the switching zone defenses that Coppin State head coach Fang Mitchell threw at the Illini. "We wanted to limit the possessions", said Coach Mitchell, who at various times ran 2-3 zones, 1-2-2 zones, a box and one focusing on Rich McBride and/or Jamar Smith, and a triangle and two focusing on Dee Brown. Coppin State held IL to 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but couldn't capitalize, as the swarming Illini man to man pressure held Coppin State to single digits in scoring until there were three minutes remaining in the half. Coppin State also struggled from the free throw line, going 1-8 from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes. Coppin State shot 24% in the first half. "Illinois had a hand in our face on every shot" said Coach Mitchell. "Except at the free throw line…they can't guard you there."

"Obviously, not a real pretty game" commented Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "They kept within striking distance most of the game". "The worst thing I thought we did was the turnovers." The Illini gave the ball up 16 times, while forcing only 9 turnovers.

"It was a tough week of practice besides the exam. Brian hurt himself a half hour into the practice Monday, CJ couldn't practice, we'd have 8 or 9 guys out there, some at finals."

The Illini's rust was evident as the Illini tried to get their offense running. "Our big guys weren't doing a good job of flashing to the post against the zone, and when they did flash, the guards wouldn't pass it to them."

The Illini only had two players in double figures, with Jamar Smith hitting 2-5 three point attempts on his way to 10 points, and James Augustine continued his torid shooting from the field, hitting 5-7 shots and making all 5 of his free throw attempts to end up with 15 points to go along with his 9 rebounds. Dee Brown went 2-6 from three point range and added 8 points and 7 assists, and Rich McBride added 9. The Illini shot 50% from the field, and improved their free throw shooting slightly to 72%.

Brian Randle didn't play tonight due to the ankle injury suffered in practice this week, so the Illini had Warren Carter in the starting lineup for the first time this season. Calvin Brock also logged 20 minutes of playing time filling in for Randle, who is expected to return Wednesday night for the Missouri game. Marcus Arnold struggled against the Eagles, scoring 2 points, and fouling out in 12 minutes of playing time.

Notes:

1) IL has won 27 straight games at Assembly Hall, the third longest streak in the nation. The Illini have won 44 straight non-conference games at Assembly Hall.

2) The 12 points allowed in the first half to Coppin State was the lowest amount scored against the Illini all season, eclipsing the 13 scored by Georgetown in 12/8.

3) By running their record to 11-0, the Illini have tied the sixth best start in school history.

4) Coppin State's 34% field goal percentage was the lowest by an Illini opponent this season, and this was the 5th time this year a team was held under 40% shooting by Illinois.

5) The Illini has 15 assists on 20 field goals tonight.

6) Calvin Brock hit career highs in points (6), rebounds (6), and hit the first three pointer of his career in the second half of tonight's game.

7) Dee Brown and James Augustine now have 99 career wins, tying them for 4th on the Illini career list with Doug Alenberger and Sean Harrington.

8) The second loudest cheer of the night was for former Illini head coach Lou Henson, who was in the crowd along with his wife Mary.

9) Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole were in attendance tonight, as was Denise Smith, who was presented with her son Deron Williams' Final Four ring in a ceremony before the game.


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