Rich McBride's return certainly helped, but holding hapless Savannah State to 3 points over the first 13 minutes of the first half, and running out to a 40 point lead early in the second half gave Weber plenty of opportunity to rest all his starters in an 81-34 victory at sold-out Assembly Hall Tuesday night.
"I thought we defended well. We had a size advantage. They were trying to run an offense and we took them out of it, then they got into a bind," said Weber. "They just couldn't score against us."
The Illini dominated the game from the very start. A 20-1 run in the first half provided breathing room, and the Illini defense simply smothered the Tigers, holding them to an Assembly Hall record low 13 points in the first half on 14% shooting, and forcing as many turnovers (11) as points allowed at the break.
"I thought we played hard on defense, but we couldn't put the ball in the basket," said Savannah State head coach Horace Broadnax. "We didn't have as many bodies, and we just wore down."
The Illini continued the onslaught in the second half, using a 40-12 run to push the lead out to as many as 50 points before mass substitutions and a late shooting flurry by the Tigers. Savannah State also tied the Assembly Hall record for fewest points scored by an opponent, and set a new Assembly Hall record by making only 10 field goals for the game.
The Illini were led in scoring by Chester Frazier with 17 points. McBride chipped in 16 in his return on 4-10 shooting from behind the arc, Warren Carter added 12, and Shaun Pruitt recorded his first career double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, 6 on the offensive end. More importantly for Illinois, no one played over 33 minutes, and Calvin Brock and Chester Frazier, who put in 40 minute games earlier in the week, were able to get some rest, logging 22 and 27 minutes respectively.
"I feel good right now," said Frazier. "My legs aren't tired tonight. It's good to have Rich back."
McBride did not start, but made his first appearance at the 14:17 point of the first half. McBride missed his first two attempts, but hit a long three from the top of the key at the 3:58 mark.
"It felt pretty good to be out there. I had a little nerves at first, made a couple of bad plays, but once I got into the flow of the game, I felt pretty good," said McBride.
Frazier recovered from a tough shooting night on Sunday, going 6-8 from the field and hitting 2-3 three pointers, and showed an improved touch from the free throw line, making 3 of 5 attempts. Frazier also had 5 assists. "I was a triple double guy in high school," said Frazier with a laugh. When Pruitt laughingly referred to Frazier as "the next Magic Johnson, Frazier replied with "I need coach to get me in the post a few times and let me shoot my jump hook."
The Illini ran their preseason record to 5-0 with the victory, while Savannah State fell to 5-1. A strong walkup sale at gametime provided the Illini with their 33rd straight sellout of Assembly Hall.
The Illini have seven players averaging in double figures after Tuesday's game, with Jamar Smith leading the way at 19 points/game, followed by McBride at 16.0, Meacham at 12.8, Frazier at 12.2, Brock at 12.2, Pruitt at 11.2, and Carter at 11.0.
The Illini's next game is Friday night at the new Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, in the first of two games on site at the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The game tips off at 7:30pm.