The Illini started the game on fire, running out to a 20-5 lead with 9 minutes gone. SEMO went on a 13-2 run to close the Illini lead to 22-18 with just under 7 minutes remaining in the half, on the strength of a pair of three pointers from Roy Booker. "We broke down defensively. Booker got going, and their big guys caused us problems because we didn't do a great job containing them" said Illini head coach Bruce Weber. The run by SEMO was also fueled by poor Illinois shooting during that stretch. "Maybe the first time all year we took bad shots. (I'm) a little bit disappointed that we couldn't do what we did in the second half right away." SEMO stayed close the remainder of the first half, and had the lead down to 6 with just over a minute left in the half. Then Dee Brown decided he'd seen enough.
First, Dee knifed through the entire SEMO team to sink a twisting layup with 30 seconds left in the half. Then, after Roy Booker made two free throws with 2 seconds left, Dee too the inbounds pass, dribbled just over the half court line, and let loose from 44 feet as the buzzer sounded, and hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
"I just threw it up and prayed for it to go in." said Brown, who finished the night with 16 points.
Freshman Jamar Smith was the other spark plug for the Illini offense in the first half, going 3-3 from behind the arc in a 10 minute span on his way to a 14 point night featuring 5-5 shooting. "Shooting…that's my job" said Smith. "When I don't shoot, Dee and James get on me". Coach Weber added " It's amazing…I don't know what else I can say. He shot more shot in the gym over the summer than maybe the rest of the guys combine. He's successful because of hard work. For a freshman, to come in and play with that confidence, it's amazing. The coaches were telling me to get him back into the game when they went on that little run."
The Illini came out with momentum in the second half, and quickly put the game out of reach. Spurred by a 21-11 run, the Illini quickly got the lead to 19, and never looked back. The Illini experimented with multiple lineups in the second half, with junior Warren Carter seeing extended minutes and responding with his best game of his career, scoring 14 points on a variety of shots, layups, breakaway dunks, and a rebound dunk that brought the sellout crowd at the Assembly Hall to its feet. Warren also grabbed 7 rebounds, also a career high. "Right away, he made some plays defensively" commented Coach Weber. "Rebounds, he boxed out, got a steal in the post ‘d'. He had two layups at the end that I wish he could have gotten to go down, and it would have been more of a confidence builder."
Freshman Chester Frazier returned earlier than expected from his quadriceps injury, seeing 13 minutes of playing time while giving Dee Brown some needed rest. "He came in and played solid-5 rebounds and 5 assists. He's a warrior" said Brown.
James Augustine had another solid performance, with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Brian Randle led the team with 9 rebounds (6 in the first 8 minutes of the game), and added 9 points. Rich McBride showed his shooting stroke was returning, hitting 2-3 3-pointers to add 6 points, and Marcus Arnold and Shaun Pruitt platooned well in the power forward position, adding 4 and 6 points respectively.
SEMO was led in scoring by Ray Booker, who poured in 26 points. "Ray Booker came out and played great for them" said Dee Brown. SEMO head coach Gary Garner added "Ray's a scorer. He's a great player, and played great against a great team."
By winning tonight, the Illini extended their record to 13-0 on the season, with a game this Friday against Tennessee-Martin being the only stumbling block remaining to an undefeated non-conference schedule. "Obviously, we didn't expect this, you guys (the press) didn't expect it….the team might have expected it, but I'm not sure we made it a goal until a week or two ago" said Coach Weber. "We can't overlook anyone" commented James Augustine. Dee Brown agreed. "Every team is going to come out and give us their best shot. We need to be ready to play every night."
1) The Illini's Assembly Hall winning streak is now at 28 games, 3rd longest in the nation. The Illini have won 45 straight regular season games against non-conference opponents, tied with Oklahoma for the longest streak in the nation.
2) Dee Brown is now 7th on the Illini scoring list, passing Andy Kaufmann.
3) SEMO was scoreless for the first 5:16 tonight.
4) James Augustine is now 34th on the career scoring list, passing Deron Wiliams, Rick Schmidt, and Kenny Battle.
5) The Illini topped 50 points in the first half for the first time this year, scoring 51.
6) The Illini outscored SEMO 46-22 in the paint, and 20-6 on second chance points.