Illinois coach Bruce Weber provided insight into his team's play against Chicago State Wednesday evening.
"We didn't attack the zone very well the first half. Almost too open shots early in possessions. We didn't have rhythm and didn't make them, and it allowed them to creep back in there. Then we had some turnovers. The other night we had 5 (turnovers), two in the first half. Tonight we had 7 or 8 right away. And I can't explain that. Some of it is trying for home runs, making the big pass. But we allowed them to stay in.
"It got to 10 and then we had a 20-2 run. I said at a timeout about the 13 minute mark, 'Let's get three straight shutouts.' We got that and ran off 7 straight points. Then we said let's do it again, and we got at least a couple more there. That was the difference. We broke their spirit.
"And I thought Mike Davis finally got to the boards in the second half. He's had a pretty good start, but he kind of fell in love with his offensive prowess instead of the thing that made him special and got people talking about him, and that was double-doubles.
"Tonight, he didn't make his shots but he did come back, got some rebounds, finally got some shots to go down. When you worry about scoring, that's usually when you can't get the ball in the hoop. If you just worry about playing and doing what you're supposed to, playing your butt off and competing, whatever comes offensively is good. He got to that point tonight."
Illinois didn't play well at the end of the first half, and they struggled offensively at the beginning of the second half. Weber tried not to jump on people unnecessarily.
"I tried to stay calm. I wanted to kill a couple of guys. But I kept telling myself, just stay calm. So I said at a couple timeouts, 'Guys, sometimes it happens like this. You can't make shots. You make a pass, they deflect it. You don't have the rhythm. You're not at that magic level or whatever. But you can control your defense, your rebounding and playing hard.' Maybe it settled them down because we had a nice stretch there. I was happy we finished them off.
"Our goal was to hold them under 50. We were close. So that's pretty good defensive effort. They had 80 points against Marquette, and I think they are one of the top teams in the country."
Mike Tisdale had the best stats on the night with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Weber is trying to help him improve his confidence by having him learn how to use his skills in a positive way.
"The big thing is he can't force shots. We knew we could post him deep. He had a decided height advantage, and we knew we could get it in. But even the other night, I thought he forced shots. Chester kept yelling, 'It's your night, Big Mike.'
"In the second half, he forced a couple shots. Just shoot good, open shots and let the game come to you. And then if it's not your game that night, go get some rebounds, guard people, do the other things that help the team win.
"He's struggled with turnovers. He gets himself in binds, he dribbles. If you're a seven footer, you shouldn't be dribbling. One dribble, shoot it. One dribble, drop step. I think sometimes he thinks he's a point guard.
"But he did go to the offensive glass. He's not a real confident kid. When he makes his first shot, gets his second one down, now he starts to feel good. That's when he seems to have good games. It helps (to be close to the basket). Take what they give you. If they give you layups, take them."
Jeff Jordan may be starting to find his comfort level and contribute to the team's success.
"I've been waiting for him. He's played pretty well and made some progress. Then, he gets into the game and doesn't do well, turns it over. We probably have a short leash with him. I thought against Hawai'i he did the things that we've been asking, pressure the ball, push the ball.
"First time he went in there (against Chicago State), maybe he struggled a little bit. But at least he came back, and I thought he was really good. Six assists is his career high. I think Coach McClain teased him after the game, 'You're shooting too much.' He can help us if he does the things he's good at. And he did that tonight."
The Illini will work on all aspects of their offense, defense and rebounding over the next 10 days. One of the questions that requires an answer is who will play point guard.
"Are we better with Chester (Frazier) or Demetri (McCamey) bringing the ball up? I think Demetri can do more things, but he doesn't want to push it. He wants to play with it. So that's something he's got to get better at if he wants to continue being the point guard.
"Off of misses Trent (Meacham) can bring it, Chester can bring it, Demetri can bring it, and that's what makes us so effective. And then you've got two big guys running down who can make shots. And Dominique is kind of an X factor."
If everything works out as hoped, Alex Legion will be available for the game December 20 against Detroit. Weber must find a way to fit him into the rotation without harming team chemistry.
"We're doing pretty well, and now he's got to blend in. He's been on the scout squad for the last 6 weeks. He's got to work his way in. He's got to be patient, his mom has to be patient, his friends in Detroit. He's gonna be a good player for us, but he has to work his way in.
"He can score in a lot of different ways. But he also has to blend in with the team. If he can do that, he can ease the pressure on Trent, ease the pressure on Chester, Demetri, on down the line. Then those guys can stay fresher. If he starts making shots like we think he can, then I think Trent will get more open shots because he'll get the second or third defender and not the first.
"We have 8 practices the next ten days, and it's very important for this team's development and improvement. And then you get the one game with Detroit. It's not a done deal, but hopefully Alex will be with us. Everything's got to work out for him. If it works out, he'll be able to play that game and get in the mix."
Following Detroit, Illinois travels to St. Louis to take on Missouri in the Bragging Rights game. Based on their early games, the Tigers will be a formidable opponent.
"Missouri is pretty good. It's coming up two games down the road. Missouri's only loss was to Xavier. I said I thought Clemson was the toughest team on our schedule, but if they are Missouri is right behind them. At this point, they might be better than them. It's a big game to get a big win against another BCS conference team."
Weber would have liked to be 10-0 right now, but he's happy with his team's progress.
"I'm pleased with our guys. Obviously, the Clemson game still leaves a knot in my stomach. I thought we should have won that thing, but maybe it helps us learn something about our team for down the road. Maybe we'll get one we're not supposed to."