Illinois came out fired up, and the partisan crowd supported them throughout the game. The Illini used teamwork, hustle and defense, the formula that helped them register their 18 previous wins, to keep their Big 10 title hopes alive.
"We are back to playing as a team," a relieved Bruce Weber stated. "21 assists, 11 turnovers. That is how we got to 18-5."
Purdue coach Matt Painter was without star forward Robbie Hummel, out with a stress fracture in his back. But he likes the Illini team.
"It's difficult to win here. Even if we had Hummel, it's difficult to win here. It's a good team, and he's a very good coach.
"I like their chemistry even though they've had some struggles, everybody has some struggles on the road. The Big 10's a tough place to win away from your home court. But I like their team in terms of being together, knowing their roles. They can bring some guys in that can give you matchup problems. Illinois is a good team."
Senior leader Chester Frazier contributed in multiple ways. He scored 10 points and added 5 assists while holding Boiler guard E'Twaun Moore to 6 points on 2 of 9 shooting from the field. He also provided excellent detailed analysis of the game.
"It's a big confidence boost. We made some shots finally, we played D, we played hard. Everybody contributed from 1-12. We had good practices this week, and we executed the game plan.
"They play so hard. They play the way we should play every night. I think they bring the best out of us. You almost get that scared feeling when you play them because you know they're coming at you. You've got to be ready to be on your toes and punch back.
"I kind of figured I'd be guarding Moore most of the game, so I watched some of his tendencies, some of his moves. Just how to stay with him and how he comes off screens. I just try to take some of his best moves away. Keep in front of him and make him make shots.
"That is how we were guarding early in the year, and we did pretty well. I think we got away from that. Tonight, I think we did a pretty good job minus the offensive rebounds. For the most part, they didn't shoot the ball very well, and they didn't shoot very well from three either. We just tried to make them make tough shots. Stay in front of their players and keep them out of the paint."
Frazier is proud of his teammates and is quick to defend their quality as a unit.
"This shows our resilience. We got our butts kicked at Wisconsin but come back tonight and play as well as we did. It shows a lot about this team. Coach Weber is preparing us, getting us fired up. I just give credit to coach and the guys for sticking with it."
Frazier wasn't always a crowd favorite, but he is putting it all together his final season. If some fans still don't understand his importance to the Illini team, Painter provides a fitting explanation.
"He's just a good decision-maker, and he understands what he's supposed to do to help Illinois win. And that's important. He hasn't always been that way. He's had parts of him that's been that way at times, but now you can tell he's an extension of the coaching staff.
"That's what you should be. You should be like Chester Frazier when you become a senior. Play to your strengths, help your team win, be a coach on the floor. And that's why they're having success."
The statistical leader for Illinois was forward Mike Davis. Weber said he has been struggling with Bell's Palsy, which has caused part of his face to become numb. But his health is returning, as evidenced by his 14 points, 16 rebounds and 2 assists. Painter was duly impressed.
"Mike Davis was the difference tonight. He had 16 rebounds. I think that's the most rebounds in a Big 10 game. He's got a good nose for the basketball, he's athletic. He's been a little inconsistent in that he will have huge games on the glass, and then sometimes he'll have three or four rebounds. Mike Tisdale scores, but he's not a rebounder. So when they take care of the basketball and get 21 assists, and when he rebounds the ball, they're a great team."
Demetri McCamey played one of his better floor games. He was mentally strong, penetrated to find open teammates and hustled on defense. He made 13 points despite going 0-4 on threes, and he made 7 straight free throws while assisting on five buckets.
"I was finding my teammates," McCamey explains. "My shots weren't falling earlier, so Coach told me to be a player, find my teammates. Make everyone take you and then fire off to Chester or Trent (Meacham) to get open shots. Just playing team basketball."
McCamey now appears to understand his role better. He has learned from the mistakes from recent road games.
"We fell in love with too many outside shots instead of penetrating and getting to the hole. Sometimes, we let our offense dictate our defense. We learned that ain't gonna work on the road especially."
Illinois started fast and never lost the lead. Davis hit a corner jumper, McCamey hit two free throws, and Trent Meacham hit his first three point attempt to give the Illini a 7-2 edge.
The Illini went on a 6 point run to push their lead to ten at 29-19 before Purdue countered with a seven point streak of their own. The pace was intense and sometimes frenetic on both ends as aggressive defense limited offensive successes. It was 32-28 Illinois at the half.
Mike Tisdale opened second half scoring with a high alley oop to Davis for a dunk, keeping Purdue at bay. The crowd maintained its support by roaring repeatedly after outstanding efforts by their home team.
Illinois went on an 8 point streak to push their lead to 49-37, and a later 9 point run gave them an insurmountable 64-43 advantage. Both teams emptied their benches for the last couple minutes.
Illinois shot 44.6% against Purdue's aggressive defense, but they allowed Purdue only 32.2% shooting including a meager 13.3% on threes. Many of the threes were uncontested, Purdue shooting woes reminding of Illinois' problems at Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Trent Meacham was 3-5 from three, which had to be a boost to his confidence after slumping recently. He also handed out 5 assists as the Illini were a remarkable 84% on their assist to baskets made ratio. Dominique Keller added 8 points off the bench, matching Tisdale's output.
Weber had a hunch his Illini would have a good game after watching Saturday's practice session. Several factors conspired to help them.
"Yesterday's practice was one of the best we have had all year. It continued to the game, maybe because CBS was there, maybe because Westwood One radio was there. Eddie Johnson was there and talked to the team today. Practice intensity carried over today."
It would be great if the Illini could match their Purdue effort on the road as their next two games are at Northwestern and Indiana. Frazier hopes the rest of the players feel like he does about road games.
"I don't know about the rest of the guys, but I'm tired of losing on the road. We haven't won on the road in a long time, so we need to get a road victory starting with Northwestern."