Youthful Illini Overcome Odds At Vanderbilt

The improving Fighting Illini basketball team gained some needed confidence with a 69-63 victory at Vanderbilt Thursday evening. Defensive intensity and perfect free throw shooting proved decisive in a matchup of youthful teams. Learning from last year, the Illini kept their poise in the pressurized final minutes to find a way to win.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was pleased with the victory.

"I thought we played pretty good basketball. At times, we were impatient and allowed them some good shots. We talked about courage, being patient, having confidence, being the aggressor. And we made some plays down the stretch."

Indeed they did. The Illini made a big play to take a lead at the half, and they finished their victory in style. With time running out at the half, Chester Frazier took his time, penetrated and dished to a wide open Demetri McCamey who buried a three at the last second. Nursing a tenuous two point lead in the last minute of the game, the Illini got stops on defense while Trent Meacham and Frazier nailed two free throws apiece to seal the victory.

Weber has preached finishing games. Hopefully, this game will serve as a positive reminder for future barnburners.

"You find ways to make plays down the stretch, something we didn't do last year. You have to have guys who are playmakers if you want to win games on the road."

McCamey and Frazier were certainly playmakers on this night. McCamey got the start at the point and played a strong leadership role. He scored 23 points on 9 of 18 shooting, but more than that he dished out 8 assists with only one turnover. He helped keep his teammates calm during stressful portions of the game and directed traffic throughout.

Chester Frazier played his typical floor game despite a sore wrist and knee. He hit a big three, and his two free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining iced the game. But his biggest contributions were 6 assists with just one turnover and 4 rebounds. And his defense on forward Jeffery Taylor and point guard Jermaine Beal held them in check for most of the game.

Vanderbilt star A. J. Ogilvy was held in check by the Illini defense most of the night. The big center tallied only 13 points to go with 7 rebounds. Weber felt the help defense on Ogilvy was a key to the victory.

"I thought our bigs played better. Mike Davis had a double-double. We were a little cautions about playing Richard Semrau, but he played great defense down the stretch. They ran a little quick hitter, and he read it and got over the top. That was a huge play for us. We post trapped when we could, our big guys fought pretty well. Every one of them guarded him (Ogilvy) at one time."

Illinois was especially intense on defense in the first half, moving out to a 19-11 lead before the Commodores countered with an 8-0 run to tie the game. It was back and forth from then on. Vanderbilt built a 6 point lead to begin the second half, but a 13-1 run by the Illini midway through the second half gave them a 7 point lead they nursed the rest of the way.

Mike Davis had a poor shooting night, but he continues to find midrange openings in Illinois' motion offense. He ended with a double-double, claiming 12 boards to go with 11 points despite fouling out. Mike Tisdale scored ten points to go with 7 rebounds. Trent Meacham continues to be a scoring threat, adding 14 points on four of six threes.

Despite trailing in rebounds at the half, the Illini won the battle of the boards by 9. Their 42 rebounds were split evenly between offense and defense. The offensive rebounds helped make up for inconsistent shooting from the field, the Illini managing only 37% for the game despite 52.6% marksmanship from three point land.

The Illini broke Vanderbilt's 20 game home winning streak. They now come home to play Jackson State Sunday before playing a doubleheader the following weekend at the South Padre Island Tournnament. Coach Weber hopes this win will serve as a stepping stone for his maturing squad.

"You win as a team. Big gut check win for us. We've learned about our team, and I'm just happy we found a way to win. Hopefully, this will be a positive to build with. We can't let down. Every game is important. We're going one weekend at a time."

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