"I had no idea what the record was, or if I was close. I was just playing basketball," said Meacham, who set a career high in points for the second straight game. "If the opportunity was there, I was taking the shots."
Meacham's hot shooting helped bring the Illini back in a game where they trailed at halftime 38-34. Frazier added 13 points and a career high 10 assists, and Calvin Brock continued his strong play as a starter, notching his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, 8 of which were on the offensive glass.
Florida A&M controlled the opening period with outside shooting, led by Leslie Robinson, who had 12 points in the half, all on 3-point baskets. The Illini defense seemed sluggish at times, and Florida A&M's ball movement created open shots. The Rattlers also used dribble penetration to break down the Illini defenders. "I didn't think it was our offense that was bad in the first half," said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "It was our defense. They (A&M) had 15 points in 30 minutes against Miami of Ohio…they had 15 points at the first TV timeout tonight. Today we were listless. We weren't ready to play."
A&M extended the lead as the second half started to as many as 7 points, before the Illini started their comeback. Illinois scored on 20 of 21 possessions in the second half, on the strength of 63% shooting, 11 offensive rebounds, and 10 Rattler turnovers. The Illini used a 26-4 run in the last 12 minutes to put the game out of reach. Meacham hit 4 3-pointers in the second half, and Brock added 2. Shaun Pruitt had his best game of the year, narrowly missing a double-double with 14 points and 9 rebounds.
"We only had 7 scholarship guys that could play today," said Flordia A&M coach Mike Gillespie, Jr. "I thought they did as well as they could for as long as they could. I'm very, very proud of the way our guys played. At the 10 minute mark, I turned to my coaches and said ‘We're in trouble.'"
The Illini, still shorthanded due to injuries to Jamar Smith (ankle) and Brian Randle (groin), and with senior guard Rich McBride serving the last game of his 4 game suspension, needed Brock and Frazier to log 40 minutes each again tonight, and Meacham recorded 39. "Some of these guys have played more minutes this week than they've played in their entire career," commented Weber. "Man, 40 minutes hurts," joked Frazier. "I didn't know how much 40 minutes hurt last year."
McBride will return to action Tuesday night. "I'd like to get him 25-30 minutes," said Weber. "He won't start, but we've got to get him some reps."
Randle, who had surgery on Friday in Philadelphia, was at the game Sunday, but was obviously in pain. According to Weber, Randle's rehab schedule is pretty well set by the doctor. "He can't do much of anything for 5 or 6 days, then he's got an itinerary for the next 3 or 4 weeks." Smith was out of the walking boot and in an air cast Sunday, and even participated in some shooting drills before the game. Weber commented that a realistic expectation for his return would be in time for the Arizona game on December 2, although he did not rule out the possibility that Smith could see some action against Maryland on November 28th. "It really all depends on how he's doing," said Weber.
The Illini continue the Groundhog Day portion of their schedule, with the next game Tuesday night at Assembly Hall versus Savannah State. Tipoff is scheduled for 7PM, and a limited number of tickets are still available at the Assembly Hall box office.