Illinois coach Bruce Weber was impressed.
"I thought the last 13-15 minutes of the first half, our players played as hard as any group I've been associated with, and probably as good a defense. It was like we were everywhere, and that's what we've preached."
Playing for an audience that included Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Illini held TAMUCC to 22.7% first half shooting and 33.3% overall. Islanders coach Perry Clark, once interviewed for the Illinois head coaching job after Lou Henson's retirement, praised the Illini afterward.
"Illinois did a tremendous job defending our sets. We couldn't get any flow offensively. They were tougher mentally, stayed with it longer and were better defensively than us. They wore us down in the second half. They stayed within their system and played with much more poise. They took away our inside game."
The Illini enjoyed a 22-2 run to end the first half. The second half was almost anticlimactic as the Islanders were clearly demoralized. Mike Davis had the best game of his young career, scoring 24 points on 9-15 shooting plus two of three free throws. And he added 14 important rebounds in 25 minutes of action. He was happiest about the boards.
"I'm happy with the rebounds, and I'm sure coach is happy too."
Weber was indeed happy, but he wants to push Davis to even greater heights.
"He shows you how talented he is. If we can get him to be a little more intense, I think he's got a chance to be pretty good."
Trent Meacham supported Davis with 14 points, four assists, three rebounds, no turnovers and tremendous hustle. Weber acknowledged Trent's contributions.
"I thought Trent was spectacular, to be honest. He had 13 on the play hard chart, and that's a big number. Three of them are charges."
Meacham humbly deflected personal praise, but talked about how important quality defense is for this Illini team.
"We have to hang our hats on the defensive end and the offense will come. The fast break points that can come if we get stops and shut people out, we can be pretty tough."
Demetri McCamey didn't start, but he played an important role during Illinois' big first half run. He played good defense, but most of all he was aggressive and pushed the ball as Weber has preached. He played like he wanted his starting berth back.
"I've talked to Mike Davis and Demetri alot," Weber explained. "They have the athleticism and potential to be our best players. But they have to do it on a daily basis. We had to get after Demetri today during shootaround. You've got to come every day to get better and not go through the motions because you pick up bad habits."
Weber was pleased McCamey asked out of the game at one point.
"Even Demetri asked out. That's a MAJOR improvement. It means he is going that hard that he has to take himself out. That's positive."
Chester Frazier scored only 4 points, but he played a major role in the victory.
"Chester again was just solid. We've asked for consistency. Eight assists, two turnovers, 5 rebounds was our second leading rebounder, he defends, and 9 on the play hard chart."
Power forward Dominique Keller gave glimpses of his potential as he played against some fellow Texans. He was even given a chance to defend the post, demonstrating his versatility. Dominique ended with 11 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes. He is still struggling to learn everything, but his aggressiveness is needed.
Davis complimented Keller.
"Dominique came up big for us. He hustled, rebounded, ran the floor. He did the little things coach wants him to do. I was happy with his performance, and I think everyone else was too. He needs to do that every game."
Overall, the Illini shot 43.5% for the game and 51.6% in the second half. After trailing early in rebounds 8-1, the Illini outrebounded the muscular Islanders 41-32 for the game.
The Illini demonstrated good team ball with 22 assists and only 14 turnovers. And they made 81.3% of their free throws, causing Weber to wonder jokingly if that was some kind of record.
Weber realizes the Illini still have to figure some things out offensively, but winning starts with hustle and good defense.
"Be aggressive, give great help. Right now, that's what we're trying to preach. The hard work, the heart, the hustle. If those things are constants, they will get better. The Illini have a tough road test coming up at Vanderbilt Thursday, and then they continue their South Padre tournament with a Sunday tilt with Jackson State in the Assembly Hall.