Coach Bruce Weber knows his team is a work in progress, and this game pointed out some weaknesses that need correcting.
"It's gonna be hit or miss for awhile until we find some guys who can consistently produce."
On this day, forward Mike Davis had his best game as an Illini. The sophomore led the team in scoring with 18 points while hauling in 7 rebounds and blocking five shots against the smaller Lewis team. Mike was the only Illini to shoot better than 50% on both his field goals and free throws.
"Mike has a lot of ability and he carried us today," Weber stated. "His one big weakness is a sense of urgency. He tends to float at times. We are starting to trust him, but he needs to do this every day in practice."
Davis appreciated his good game. He was also glad the way Illinois pulled out the win after struggling at the end of games last season.
"It's keeping my confidence up. It felt good we could close out the game."
Point guard Demetri McCamey seconded Davis with 16 points, and he hit two late threes to help the Illini secure the victory. He also had four rebounds and three assists. But he struggled defensively against Lewis' perimeter quickness and settled for 10 threes instead of penetrating to find open teammates.
Lewis coach Scott Trost credited his 6'-7" forward Jason Genova with good defense against McCamey.
"I felt Jason was as quick as McCamey, and he did a great job preventing him from penetrating off the bounce, leaving him nothing but threes."
McCamey was pleased with the win and felt it came as a result of improved team chemistry.
"It doesn't matter who scores, as long as we win. Unlike last year we stand together more, and that produced the W."
Lewis guards did a good job of penetrating and dishing to open teammates in the second half, negating Illinois' pressure. Coach Weber feels the Illini defense is decent, but Lewis cut it to shreds at times.
After a sluggish first half for both teams, the Illini surged to a 49-35 lead on Calvin Brock's jumper with 10:20 remaining in the game. At that point, Weber tried to give freshman Stan Simpson and others some playing time. The extra substituting plus good play by Lewis and some missed shots by the Illini helped Lewis narrow the deficit to 51-47 at the 5:27 mark.
McCamey then buried two of four threes, giving the Illini some breathing room. Two free throws by Davis and one by Trent Meacham closed out the victory.
Coach Weber was asked his team's strengths at this point.
"I think we are decent defenders. And we're good shooters, although not today."
Indeed. The Illini shot only 37.3% from the field, 23.8% from the arc, and 56.5% from the free throw line, reverting to last year's form. Perhaps there was something in the air as Lewis shot just as poorly.
Illinois needs production on the inside, but centers Mike Tisdale and Rich Semrau were sporadic at best. Tisdale had difficulty getting his shots to drop, and Semrau lost focus after a good beginning.
Tisdale finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds. Semrau had four points and 6 rebounds. Brock added 6 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. And Illinois' leading rebounder was guard Chester Frazier with 10.
The Illini open their regular season with a nonconference tilt versus Eastern Washington next Friday night.