Illinois coach Bruce Weber was disappointed, but he saw the bright side as well.
"The biggest thing is we won the game. A year ago about this time we didn't have a very good feeling. The Missouri game we made shots, the ball bounced our way, plays went our way. It just seemed like we were at a special level. And tonight was the exact opposite. If it's gonna happen, I'm glad it's at home and we can still find a way to win, which we didn't always do last year."
Sophomore center Mike Tisdale tied his career high in points with 25. After some cold shooting the first half, Mike came out hot in the second. He made both right and left handed hooks, corner jumpers, layins and putbacks.
"Tisdale settles down and makes some shots in the second half," Weber says. "In the past, he kind of hanged his head. But he's starting to grow up and be more confident."
Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey complimented Tisdale. For him it was a case of pick your poison.
"Tisdale had a great evening. We didn't slow him down at all. This is probably one of his better games in his career. We wanted to take Trent (Meacham) away, we wanted to take (Chester) Frazier away, and we wanted to take (Demetri) McCamey away, and we did a pretty good job. When it's raining, even with an umbrella you can't stop all the rain drops. Tisdale happened to be the drops that got through."
Tisdale played 37 minutes and admitted to being tired afterward. But his marksmanship gave him the adrenalin to push through. Weber noted that Richard Semrau missed one practice and part of another trying to return from Christmas break due to bad weather. So he wasn't ready to relieve big Mike.
"I didn't take him out the second half. I kept saying to the assistants should we take him out, and they said heck no, he's scoring every time. I think because it was zone and there were a lot of long shot clock possessions, he probably didn't get as tired as normal. Mike was playing well, go with the guys who are playing well."
Trent Meacham was the only other Illini in double figures with 16 points, including 4-5 on three pointers. EMU surprised Illinois with a zone most of the game, and Meacham said that threw off the Illini game plan.
"We didn't really prepare for it at all. We didn't expect them to play 35 minutes of zone. We've been pretty good against zones this year, but I don't think we were patient enough. When we started out the second half, we did a little better job against it.
"They were patient, they played really well, and they just slowed us down. They had a great game plan. We stretched it a little the second half, but we never really made a run like we wanted to."
Chester Frazier again lead the play hard chart while also grabbing a team high 11 rebounds. And he had three assists and two steals. Frazier had little help fighting for boards as the Eagles led that department 30-28. Calvin Brock played half the game and provided needed energy.
"We had some guys step up," Weber reminded. "Calvin had only 10-11 minutes against Missouri, but he gave us good energy first half and came out again the second half."
Two players who did not play extensive minutes were starters Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey. When they are on, they are perhaps the team's best players. But their inconsistency remains a problem. In this case, Weber says they weren't slacking off.
"I'd hoped they'd be a little better. I don't think it was because they weren't mentally ready. But a couple shots didn't go down and they let that get to them. You've still got to guard, you've still got to rebound, fight, get on the floor, do the little things. You can still be valuable.
"I think their whole life is making shots. There's games where you do the other things. We play Chester those minutes because he does everything else."
Eastern Michigan's two big forwards Justin Dobbins and Brandon Bowdry were too quick for Illini big men inside, and they each scored double figures. For the game, the Eagles shot 45.8% compared with 44.0% for Illinois. Both teams exceeded 50% the second half.
Weber knows his team is better than last year because it could still win while playing poorly. But it will need much better focus and energy Tuesday when it begins Big 10 play at powerhouse Purdue.
"I haven't thought a lot of our concentration since we got back. We had a messed up return to campus, not a great continuity. I don't think we had the emotion we needed to play today at a high level.
"We've got to get that emotion if we're gonna be able to compete on Tuesday night against a very good Purdue team. They're probably the highest ranked team we'll play all year."