Illinois coach Bruce Weber was pleased with the defense, especially against Georgia's muscular front line players.
"It was a nice team win. I thought our defense was good. They have some big guys, and I thought we fought them in the post. The best thing we did was post defense. We really fought in the post. We turned them over 27 times, and that's with half court defense. So that led to running a little bit. We have enough shooters and passers to make some plays."
Demetri McCamey made 8 of 12 shots, including three three-pointers to lead the way. He got Illinois off to a hot start by scoring 9 of the first 11 points and 13 of the first 19. Playing the off guard against man defense, McCamey used screens to free himself for jumpers, and he demonstrated an ability to penetrate and take on contact to make good plays.
Weber thought McCamey did better offensively, but he still wants him to improve defensively.
"I thought early he might have fallen in love with the 3's. We told him he's shooting 29% from 3, and he has the most threes by about 20 shots. I think he got into the paint a little better and did a nice job with dishes and finishes. There's no doubt he played a better game. He's got to guard. He's got to play good team defense. We can't have one guy break down."
Demetri was fired up playing in his hometown. He credited teamwork for the win.
"I think we played real well as a team. Last year, we gave up a close one here against Arizona, so we didn't want that to happen again. It's teamwork. Everybody wants to play together. We're a family. There's always a lot of fans here, so it's real special."
Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis combined for 14-20 shooting and tallied 14 points each. Dominique Keller came off the bench for 11, thanks mostly to three made three point attempts. Weber doesn't want Keller to shoot threes necessarily, but he wants him to feel good about himself.
"Dominique turned it over just before the half, but he did come back and played better. I told him if he plays defense he gets five more minutes, and he got some more minutes. I'm not sure where the heck those 3's came from. But if it helps him with his confidence, that's fine."
The Illini were hot early. Despite Georgia's dominance on the offensive glass, Illinois rushed out to a 19-6 lead before Georgia recouped. Weber knew they needed a fast start.
"The kids get excited to play here, there's no doubt. It's a special environment. I thought the start was very important. We were upset, the players were upset about the loss to Clemson. If not, we would be 8-0. But you have to take everything and learn from it and move forward."
As hot as the Illini were initially, they went stone cold once the Bulldogs switched to a 1-3-1 zone with their big men on the periphery.
"We knew they were gonna go 1-3-1, but we really hadn't seen it, especially in live competition," Weber explained. "The first couple times, we attacked it and got good shots but didn't make them. Then, we started getting a little crazy."
Georgia pulled within 7 at the half, 30-23. Weber was frustrated about needing to box out better on the offensive glass and the poor way they handled the zone. But halftime adjustments solved the dilemma.
Better passing and cutting against the zone helped the Illini carve out a double digit lead they maintained. The lead stretched to 19 before the Bulldogs rallied with seven straight points to make it a game again, 54-42. But that was the last points they would score the rest of the way.
Having to revert to man defense to catch up, Illinois exploded. Good teamwork in the halfcourt and quick buckets off transition after turnovers allowed the Illini to finish off the game with a 22 point run. Georgia became demoralized and lost focus as Illinois manhandled them.
"We did a better job attacking, we made a couple threes, and I think they lost energy," Weber stated. "They played Western Kentucky on Wednesday, and I think they kind of died out."
Trent Meacham scored 8 points while handing out 6 assists. Chester Frazier was able to rest his aching leg at times, so he was able to provide good energy when in the game. And he swished two three pointers. Even C. J. Jackson saw time and scored a layup against his favorite school growing up.
Weber knows his team must recover fast to win games Monday with Hawaii and Wednesday vs. Chicago State. It's been a long stretch of games with little rest, but a win against Georgia buoys the spirits.
"It was a good win for us. You always want to win here in the United Center. It was a confidence builder. We've got Monday and Wednesday and then finals. Hopefully, we can end up 9-1 going into finals. And then we get Alex Legion back and continue to make progress."