In addition to injured starters Jamar Smith (ankle), Chester Frazier (foot/toe), and Brian Randle (groin), Weber learned that starting center Shaun Pruitt had suffered a chipped bone in his shooting hand in a loss to Arizona over the weekend, and freshman Richard Semrau had been admitted to the hospital for treatment of a lingering infection/injury to his ribcage.
By the end of the game against IUPUI, the only question in Weber's mind was who to finish the game with. The Illini jumped out to a quick lead, and torrid second half shooting by Rich McBride and Smith from behind the 3-point arc led the Illini to an easy 87-59 victory at Assembly Hall.
It's great to see Jamar back," said Weber. "He's bugged me for three days about playing. I wanted to see him in practice. He practiced well on Monday, and I think he played even better on Tuesday. He made sure he texted me a couple of times today to make sure I'd let him play."
Smith's return was a key to the resurgent Illini offense. He was perfect (5-5) from behind the 3 point arc, and scored 15 points in only 19 minutes. The attention on Smith freed up looks for McBride, and he responded by hitting 6 of 9 from long range and finishing with 18 points. "I was just kinda competing with Rich," said Smith. "I'd see him hit one, and then he'd look at me, and I'd have to hit one."
Illinois started the game on a 14-5 run on the strength of two McBride threes, and never looked back. The Illini held IUPUI to 34% shooting in the first half and scored 11 points on 8 turnovers to jump to a 42-25 halftime lead. The Jaguars picked up their shooting in the second half, but with Smith and McBride perfect from beyond the arc in the last 20 minutes (both went 3-3), IUPUI was never able to close the gap.
"They're pretty good. McBride and Smith are just lights out," said Jaguars head coach Ron Hunter. "We came in here thinking that we should make them shoot a lot of jump shots. We wanted them to take 25-30 threes. I thought they'd only make 5 or 6, but they made 14."
"I've seen Michigan State, I've seen Indiana, and we were in Ohio State's tournament, and I will say this-Illinois can win the Big 10," said Hunter. "If they shoot the ball like that, and get healthy, and get the other guys back, they can win the Big 10. That's a good, good basketball team."
Warren Carter continued to shine on the offensive end, leading the team with 21 points and 8 rebounds. Calvin Brock also had 8 boards, along with 11 points and 7 assists. Chester Frazier did not score, but dished out 11 assists, tying his career high. Trent Meacham also hit double figures, scoring 12 points in only 17 minutes.
"I've told Chester that when we get the shooters back, all he has to do is deliver and understand what he's about," said Weber. "I think Warren thinks I'm on him all the time. I'm just trying to get him to understand how good he is, and what he should do. Maryland, he played one half. Arizona, I thought he responded and played two halves. Then I got on him again and he said ‘You're still mad at me', and I told him to get 30 and 15 next time….keep making progress, be all-conference. Why not?"
Pruitt played 19 minutes with a heavily bandaged shooting hand, and scored 7 points. Randle was on the bench in uniform, but did not play. His return is slated for Saturday against UIC at the United Center in Chicago. Semrau will be in the hospital for several more days, and his return is indefinite. "We need rest," said Weber. "We've got to get through Saturday. If we get through Saturday, guys like Pruitt and Chester Frazier will rest for Sunday, Monday, and probably Tuesday. Hopefully we can find a way to survive Saturday and get a little rest for those guys and make some progress."
Game notes: -Jamar looked great from the start. He was moving well laterally, and his shot was pure. Rich missed a couple in the middle, but his first couple of shots and his last few looked great.
-Shaun's bandage really affected his shot. He missed a dunk because he couldn't get a good grip on the ball.
-Bruce celebrated his 200th career win tonight. He joked that he'd rather have celebrated it last week.
-IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter laughingly thanked Loren Tate for calling out Rich McBride in the paper today and waking him up. Told him that he (Loren) owed him a Christmas present.