Illinois' Big Second Half Dooms Hawkeyes

It wasn't easy, but the Fighting Illini came back from a halftime deficit to defeat the young but hungry Iowa Hawkeyes Sunday at the Assembly Hall, 62-54. Winning their league leading 9th home game in a row, the Illini extended their season record to 18-4, 6-3 in the Big 10. As usual, teamwork and solid defense made the difference.

Iowa coach Todd Lickliter was complimentary toward Illinois.

"We should have tried to sneak out at halftime I guess. I've got a lot of respect for the Illinois team. It's obvious they have good chemistry, they're skilled, they find one another. Their assists to field goals taken is very high. They can play when they need to. They were clearly the better team today."

Illinois took an early lead but couldn't hold it as their shooting was reminiscent of the Minnesota game. They missed all but one of their last 12 shots of the half, and the Hawkeyes went into halftime with a three point lead.

Two plays summed up their first half frustrations. In one sequence, Calvin Brock fought for three straight offensive rebounds only to see his return shots slide off the rim. And with 1.7 seconds left in the half, Chester Frazier stole an inbounds pass and swished a three pointer that was delivered a split second after the clock expired.

Shooting only 35.7%, the Illini could have gone into a shell. But they came out in the second half with more energy and bounce. Mike Tisdale alley assisted on a Mike Davis alley oop dunk to get their confidence up and the sellout-crowd off its seats. Demetri McCamey hit a three and penetrated for a bank shot to give Illinois the lead at 29-28.

Illinois began to extend the lead but couldn't keep Iowa at bay. Tisdale hit two long jumpers, Frazier and Dominique Keller popped threes, and Keller penetrated for a bank plus a free throw to give the Illini a 46-49 lead. Illinois hit 9 of its first 10 second half shots.

Iowa then spurted for six straight points before the Illini returned the favor. The Hawkeyes kept battling, but Illinois made 8 straight free throws to provide the final margin of victory.

Tisdale paved the way for the Illini with 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field and 4 for 4 free throws. Twelve of his points came in the decisive second half. As usual, he credited his teammates for setting him up for open shots.

"In the locker room, the guards said they wanted to get into the lane. I tried to get out of the way. They penetrated and hit me with some good passes."

Demetri McCamey played a good floor game. He dished out 7 assists, had two steals, four rebounds and scored 9 points without a turnover. It was one of his better all around games despite making only 2 of 7 threes. Frazier had half a triple double with five assists, 5 rebounds and 5 points.

"Mike Davis missed a couple shots early, and he kind of starts hanging his head," Weber explains. "He's still young. I said, 'Mike, if you don't make shots, you still can help us. You can rebound the basketball. He had 10, so that really is a positive, a nice lift for us."

Keller added 12 points, and Weber assessed his effort afterward.

"The first half, Dominique probably saved us. He was very active."

Keller says Weber has been helping him learn how to get scoring opportunities while helping his teammates.

"Coach has been talking to me a lot about screening. Whenever you screen, you get open. I think sometimes I kind of float on offense. So I just tried to back screen and down screen, and that put me in a position to get a lot of open shots."

Weber sums up the game.

"Obviously, the second half was more characteristic of what we've done all season. We struggled, especially at the end of the first half making shots. Not getting good shots more than anything. At least they responded at halftime.

"We told the kids it was gonna be a hard-fought game. Todd gets his guys to run offense, be patient, grind you out until you break down. And then on defense, they don't give you a lot of easy looks early in possessions.

"I think once we got some stops, we got some transition early and then in the second half. That eases the pressure on your half court. And we had better ball movement and better screening second half. It allowed us to get some open shots.

"Tisdale got hot, Demetri was a little more patient and distributed with 7 assists. It was a good balanced effort in the second half. And we made our free throws down the stretch.

"Every game in the league is tough. It's not easy. You've got to keep coming every day. You need to be ready to play and focused and all those coaching cliches. It's really true of what's happening in our league this year.

"Rebounding, that might be a miracle that we won the boards."

Keller reminded how important it was for the team to get back into the win column after the frustrating loss at Minnesota Thursday.

"Tonight was big. Coach was talking to us about courage. It was a hard loss to Minnesota, it was kind of embarrassing. If we come out lackadasical like we did up there, we will get beat. Every game is important if you want to go for the Big 10 Championship. And that's our goal."

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