Illini Get Tourney Title In Defensive Battle

The Fighting Illini basketball team overcame a tough Tulsa defense and its own poor shooting to win the South Padre Island Tournament Saturday night, 48-44. Mike Tisdale was named Most Valuable Player as he scored the final two buckets of the game. Illinois is now 6-0 on the season as it continues to find ways to pull out close games at the end.

Mike Tisdale is beginning to show the promise predicted for him.

"It was just confidence, you know," Tisdale explained afterward. "Yesterday I hit a couple, and today they just rolled in. (Jerome Jordan) is a real good player. He's really athletic and really tall. I had to put some moves on him.

"The confidence is allowing me to not think about stuff and just going out and playing. Not worrying about the play before helps a lot. You want to go out there and prove who you are. Hopefully, I did well."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber knew Tisdale's last-second misses as a freshman would balance out eventually.

"Last year, Mike was disappointed. He had several opportunities to win games last year and didn't. He had all that game experience, and now at the end of games he's making them."

Tisdale made an upperclassman move on the 7'-0" Jordan to give the Illini a 46-44 lead. He dribbled left, got 7'-0" Tulsa star Jerome Jordan on his hip then spun to his right. A drop step put him in range for an upblockable lefty kiss off the glass. Weber designed the second shot.

"That lefty move was a great move. I didn't design that. But the second one, we did a double ball screen. It was the same play we tried yesterday, but he went out to 19 feet and missed. Today he went where he was supposed to be at 16 feet, sat on it and made a big shot. That was an icebreaker for us.

Joining Tisdale on the All-Tournament team were guards Demetri McCamey and Chester Frazier. McCamey scored 8 points, but it was Frazier who again made big plays despite playing injured.

"That's normal for Chester," Tisdale said. "He could go out there with a broken leg and play well. We really appreciate it."

Chester scored only 4 points, but he had 8 assists and did an excellent job defending Tulsa point guard star Ben Uzoh. Weber is continually amazed by Frazier's heart and determination.

"Chester did an unbelieveable job on Uzoh. He (Uzoh) got on a little run there and made a couple, and then we changed how we guarded the ball screens and Chester got him frustrated. He had an airball and threw it away down the stretch.

"A lot of people wouldn't play. I don't think there is anybody on our team that would play besides him. I just hope he's ok for Tuesday. I go to bed every night praying that he's healthy."

The game was a defensive struggle from the start. Neither team could run offense cleanly against close guarding, and the shooting percentages were down because of it. Illinois did grab an 8 point lead early in the first half, and a burst at the beginning of the second half gave them a brief 7 point cushion. But Tulsa always fought back.

Tulsa took its first lead with a Uzoh 2 pointer to make the score 41-40. Trent Meacham tied the score 44-44 with a bucket at the 3 minute mark, leading to Tisdale's heroics. Meacham also had a big steal in that stretch.

Both teams shot poorly. Illinois made none of its 10 three-point shots, while the Golden Hurricane were a weak 2 for 18 behind the line. And the Illini made only 2 of 5 free throws in the low scoring struggle. But they made just enough plays to take home the trophy.

Tisdale led the Illini with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Richard Semrau did an excellent job backing up Tisdale and at times playing alongside him. He scored 9 big points. McCamey added 8 points, Calvin Brock provided an important spark off the bench with 7 points, and Meacham added 6. Frazier had only 4 points, but his 8 assists and sound defense turned the tide for Illinois.

Illinois flew back home right after the game to prepare for an important Big Ten-ACC matchup with undefeated Clemson in the Assembly Hall Tuesday evening.

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