Illini Teamwork, Defense Prove Decisive

The Fighting Illini basketball team passed its last test before first semester exams, overpowering Chicago State 89-50 at the Assembly Hall Wednesday night. A stifling defense and excellent teamwork turned a tense 10 point second half lead into a blowout. The Cougars were averaging 85 points a game, but team defense by the Illini took them out of their game.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber praised the defense, especially the work of senior guard Chester Frazier on Chicago State's pint-sized dynamo David Holston. The nation's second leading scorer was held to 17 points on 6-19 from the field.

"I think the key to the game was our defense spearheaded by Chester. The little fella is good. We frustrated him, Chester frustrated him. But at the same time, we told our guys he is so quick and has such great balance that we had to have other people help on him. I thought our big guys early on wouldn't let him get by the ball screens. And then when he did get by, we had pretty good weakside help."

Chicago State committed 29 turnovers. They shot only 31% from the field, including 27% from the three point line. The Illini have now held six of their 10 opponents under 40% shooting.

If you cut off the head, the rest of the body collapses. Stopping Holston left his teammates without the grit and determination to continue the fight. Cougars head coach Benjy Taylor praised Illinois but felt an apology was in order.

"I'd like to apologize for my team's performance tonight. We weren't very good. We need to get back to the drawing board and figure out some things. We were outplayed tonight in a lot of different areas.

"Those guys in the other locker room believe they are good, and they believe that they can win. I'm just trying to get my program and my guys to believe the same thing because anything can happen on any given night. You can't be defeated before you get off the bus."

Illini teamwork paved the way again on offense. Quick passes against the zone found a number of open shot opportunities. And 13 steals led to a strong transition game and 37 points off turnovers.

Mike Tisdale enjoyed his best day as an Illini with 25 points and 10 rebounds. It was his first ever double-double. Towering over the smaller Cougars, he made 9 of 16 shots. But it wasn't his offense he was happiest about.

"To be honest, I'm more happy with the rebounds. I've just got to continue doing it.

Weber was happy for big Mike, who has fallen into a pattern lately of alternating between good and bad games. He knows Tisdale needs to have success to boost his self-confidence.

"Tisdale, it was good he came back. He was not very good the other night. We knew he could get the ball inside. "

Trent Meacham supported Tisdale with 14 points and dished out 4 assists. Mike Davis failed to score until he made one of two free throws at the 11:55 mark of the second half. But he made up for it with aggressiveness, especially in the second half.

Davis would up with his fourth double-double of the season, pulling down 12 rebounds to go with a flurry of 11 points in a decisive stretch where the Illini went on a 19-0 run to ice the game.

Chester Frazier and Jeff Jordan each distributed the rock to the tune of 6 assists apiece. Demetri McCamey added 10 points and 3 assists. Calvin Brock was energetic off the bench. Despite missing four of five free throws, Calvin ended with 9 points, and his hustle on defense was rewarded with four steals. Walkon Bubba Chisholm notched his first ever Illini point with a free throw.

Coach Weber knows the next 10 days are important. With no games scheduled until December 20, the Illini have time to improve their weaknesses and add Alex Legion to the mix. He knows his guys aren't superstars and must continue to work as a team to be successful. Some of that was demonstrated against Chicago State.

"I put on the board tonight, Pride in Illinois. That's important. Accepting your roll, doing all the little things that make a difference. We have a chance to be pretty good. But it's not gonna happen if we think we're great individuals. We need to be a great team."

< P>Tisdale sees this win as a stepping stone. It gives him and his teammates a good feeling and encourages them to keep working hard.

"I think it's a good confidence thing for the team. We know we have to come in and get better in practice. It'll be a good 10 day stretch, and hopefully we'll get better."


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