Inspired Illini Clamp Down On Buckeyes

The Fighting Illini proved they deserved their ranking in the national polls by dominating Ohio State at the Assembly Hall Tuesday evening, 67-49. An electric atmosphere buoyed by an Illinois Day commemorating senator Barack Obama's presidential inauguration kept the Illini focused throughout the contest. Illini teamwork and chemistry proved decisive over Ohio State's tremendous athleticism.

Ohio State committed a season high 20 turnovers on the night, in large part due to Illinois' energetic defense. Illinois had a clear advantage on the Matto Play Hard Chart as everyone hustled, dove and fought for every possession. It was an inspired effort by a team hungry to win. The win gave them 16 victories on the year, which ties their win total for all of last year.

Coach Bruce Weber was happy his team could have a positive experience after the frustrating loss at Michigan State.

"I think the most positive thing is how guys reacted to the loss. I wasn't sure. We got after them a little bit, but we tried to stay positive. They kept a pretty good attitude."

As well as Illinois played, Weber was glad he caught the Buckeyes right after their big win over Michigan.

"We may have caught Ohio State at a good time. With the young kids, you win a big game like Michigan, and maybe we had the mental edge. They catch us with the loss. With the balanced competition in the league, every game is difficult."

Ohio State coach Thad Matta agreed.

"Illinois did a tremendous job of taking us out of a lot of what we wanted to do. We didn't have the energy to be in this game. We weren't as ready as we needed to play, and this is what happens when you play a great team. It wasn't meant to be."

While Matta was disappointed in his young players' focus and energy level, he praised Illinois for their major improvement over last year.

"Across the board, they've improved a lot over last year. Their percentages are higher than what they were. You've got veteran players out there. Credit to them and the job Bruce has done of molding this team together and getting them to play the way they are."

Demetri McCamey had a ready explanation for the Illini's improvement.

"We're like a family on the court. We stay together and keep our composure through the tough times. Just keep talking with one another and try to help each other. That helped. Last year, we were fussing and arguing. Everyone wanted to play for themselves. This year, we're playing more as a team. We don't care who scores. We want W's."

Mike Tisdale led four Illini in double figures with 15 points. He was frustrated at the start of the game but showed his maturity by fighting through adversity and a tall and athletic Buckeye front line to produce some important buckets in the second half. McCamey added 13 points, 7 assists and only 2 turnovers in 36 minutes. Dominique Keller was a spark off the bench with 12 points and 6 rebounds. Mike Davis had 8 points and 6 rebounds.

Chester Frazier hit two big three pointers on his way to 10 points. Despite the uncharacteristic scoring outburst, his primary asset on the night was his defense, holding the Buckeyes' leading scorer Evan Turner to 4 points. McCamey was Turner's high school teammate, so he knows when someone defends him well.

"Chester did a real good job on Evan tonight. He's probably one of the top small forwards in the country. Chester went all out tonight, denying him the ball, stripped him a couple times and got him frustrated. He couldn't get in a rhythm."

Keller proved to be a spark off the bench, especially in the first half. He said film study helped him find openings in the OSU zone."I watched film with Coach yesterday, and I was seeing where the cracks were in the Ohio State zone. I was just trying to stay weakside and flash to the middle, high enough to where I could get a quick shot off. When I got in, I saw it was just like the film, so I got three quick baskets."

Another important contributor was designated 6th man Calvin Brock. He had only 6 points and three rebounds, but he was all over the court and picked up Matto points with 5 steals. And the timing of those hustle plays was extremely important in preventing a Buckeye surge. McCamey complimented him afterward.

"Calvin always goes 110% when he's out on the court. He goes in and plays good defense, he rebounds, he hits the midrange shots, and he's not forcing anything like last year. He just feels more comfortable. As a fifth year senior, he's taking on a leadership role."

Illinois led from start to finish. The game boiled down to Illinois' teamwork versus the Buckeyes' individual athleticism and talent. An OSU reporter said the Buckeyes were not equipped to come from behind, probably due to their youthfulness and lack of experience. They certainly couldn't muster a counterattack the way Illinois was finding holes in their zone.

"The balance was good, and then we attacked their zone," Weber described. "Their shot blockers caused problems inside, but we have enough good passers and good shooters that we can spread people. When we moved the basketball, we were pretty effective."

Weber felt the Illini's entrance into the national polls had a positive effect on team morale and helped fire them up for the game.

"It was a nice adrenalin boost for the guys. It's easier to climb the mountain than to stay there."

Tisdale said the team is still hungry despite the national recognition.

"We're happy to be ranked. Obviously, we're not happy just being #24. We want to continue to move up. We came out to prove that we deserve to move up. Hopefully, we can continue to win."

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