Tisdale is improving as he gains confidence. He missed a shot that would have won the game in regulation, but he came right back and made the first shot of overtime. He also had a big block on Chicago Farragut product Chris Singletary with about a half minute left in overtime to preserve a lead.
"This win should give us some confidence, and I hope we can continue it," Tisdale stated. "You've got to read them a little bit, pick and roll or pop it. We got the ball a little bit and made some shots."
Davis enjoyed another double-double, and he did much of his damage late. He had four of his rebounds in the last couple minutes of overtime, and his three free throws kept Kent State at bay.
Frazier was all over the floor despite leg pain. Illinois coach Bruce Weber paid tribute afterward.
"You've got to give Chester a lot of credit. He couldn't even walk in shootaround. He dives into the stands, he had 13 on the play hard chart, he has 8 assists and one turnover in 42 minutes. We didn't even know he would play before the game.
"I talked to the trainers and doctors, that if we could get him through the night, we may have to rest him tomorrow night to play Tuesday. That's our game plan. Knowing him, he's gonna give it a go, but that's much wear and tear on your body."
Tisdale also praised another Herculean effort by the determined Frazier.
"Chester plays with tremendous heart and tremendous effort. He's a big part of these wins. We've got to keep him healthy."
Illinois started slowly. They lacked the bounce they showed against Jackson State, and Kent State took advantage. The Golden Flashes got 14 points from star guard Al Fisher in the first half, and the bulky Singletary and Julian Sullinger bulled their way inside against Illinois' splendid splinters Tisdale and Davis.
The Illini scored the last 7 points of the half to tie the game, 27-27. Weber wasn't pleased with Illini turnovers or defensive play, but he felt good about the late run.
"We showed resilience, there's no doubt about it. We thought right before the half, we were down five, let's either get it tied or a lead at halftime. We got it tied at halftime and had 7 straight shutouts down the stretch. That was a positive thing."
Those who thought Illinois would pull away in the second half found the opposite to be true. KSU went up 44-37 and later 54-48 before the Illini began their comeback. Nightmares from last year flooded some fans' minds as the Illini would get close only to fall back again. But when the game was on the line, Illinois came up big.
"We were down, but we didn't panic, which was key. Like they said in the huddle, 'We've been here before.' In the second half, we were trailing all the way, but we kept gutting it out and gutting it out. We took just one lead in regulation. Tizzie made some big ones. He missed the last one in regulation but made the first one in overtime."
The Golden Flashes relied on dribble penetration for most of their points. They had only 9 assists to produce 24 baskets. Frazier did a great job defending Fisher in the second half, holding him to just four more points. But the Illini found it more difficult to stop Singletary and subs Mike McKee and Rockford freshman Anthony Simpson. Still, they made the stops when needed most.
Again, it was Illinois teamwork that led to victory. Twenty-three of their 25 baskets were set up by assists. The Illini missed a number of open shots in the first half, but they ended up with a 46% shooting percentage for the game thanks to 60% in the second half. Trent Meacham was frustrated by KSU's lockdown defense but still totaled 7 points. Demetri McCamey added 9 points and 7 assists.
The Illini made a lot of mistakes. They had 15 turnovers, including six off steals. They will need to take better care of the ball to keep winning. But they did outrebound Kent State by 10. And they did hold KSU to 1-8 shooting in overtime, reducing their overall shooting percentage to 45%.
Weber had to credit the Golden Flashes.
"They just pumped us, to be honest. They'd dribble drive, and they stole it from us. We wanted to play hard, but it seemed like they just took it from us. You have to give them credit. They played hard."
It wasn't pretty, and it was far from perfect. But it was an sweet win for a young, improving team. Tisdale summed up the feelings of the whole team.
"We've just got to keep working and keep getting better."
They won't have much time to work or rest as they must face Tulsa Saturday evening. Tulsa defeated Texas A & M 67-56 in a game that was not as close as the score indicates.