Illinois started the game sluggishly. Presbyterian College ran clock and found open jumpers early. The score was tied 21-21 before the Illini took over. Afterward, Bruce Weber discussed the Illini effort.
"To their credit they took it to us early. We probably weren't quite on our toes. They made us guard some different things. We were trying to hit the home run. We'd play good defense for 15-20 seconds, now we gamble and they made some shots.
"We settled down, played good defense and probably wore them down. I thought our transition, our zone attack, got better. We had quite a few points in the paint."
Presbyterian's top three players chose to redshirt this season, so they had little chance against the deep and talented Illini. The Blue Hose will be eligible for the NCAA Tournament next year. The three chose to wait a year for the chance to participate in the Tournament. Without 54% of last season's scoring, Presbyterian was overmatched.
The Illini closed the first half with a 22-7 run, and they dominated the first few minutes of the second half with a 25-2 burst. Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert was highly impressed with the Illini.
"Coach Weber does a tremendous job. We're out there in zone, and they had 27 assists. I don't think they hardly dribbled the ball. Tremendous passing, skip passing, moving the ball around, hitting the open man.
They shot the ball real well. We were hoping that maybe they wouldn't hit the threes. But with the two additions of #1 (D.J. Richardson) and #3 (Brandon Paul), (Alex) Legion came in there, they got high-low sometimes.
"They did a tremendous job of inside and out and were very unselfish. We needed 6-7 players out there sometimes to guard them the way they passed and moved the basketball."
Nibert's team was overwhelmed by Illinois' depth of talent. Every Illini scored, with redshirt freshman Stan Simpson canning his first career points.
"I was surprised by how many guys came in there. They come off the bench with guys who can shoot and play. We weren't ready for that. That really does make it tough."
Weber also spoke about his team's depth.
"We said all along it was gonna be a lot of different people. Brandon had two big games. Today D.J., Demetri (McCamey) with 10 assists, Mike Davis could have had a double-double but Coach took him out and screwed that thing up.
"Alex comes in and gets double digit scoring. It was great for Alex to get a couple down. He's a shot maker, and it really spreads defenses. Tyler Griffey is 9 and 9, Billy Cole is doing a nice job being solid. Jeff Jordan gives us a nice little spark too. He can relieve Demetri when we need it. So a lot of people can do a lot of things."
This was Jordan's first game, and he scored four points, had 5 rebounds and added two assists. Weber said his maturity and experience showed. McCamey praised Jordan afterward.
"He helped tremendously rebounding, assists, pushing the ball, playing defense, just doing the little things. We definitely need him. He's a good spot player off the bench."
McCamey acknowledges that improved depth helps everyone play harder.
"It helps everybody. You have to play your A game. You can't take plays off or be sluggish because you know you've got people on the bench that's better than you or will give 110% every time they step on the court. It makes you want to play that much harder."
Davis was a little disappointed to miss his third straight double-double, but the win was more important. Asked what the team learns from a blowout win, Davis showed his maturity.
"We're just trying to learn from this. Keep playing hard. Don't think of the score, act like it's close. Work on the things we need to work on. The second half, we held them to 20 points."
Richardson showed no ill effects from his hyperextended elbow. It is not yet 100%, but he made four of six threes and five of ten shots overall while dishing out five assists and committing only one turnover. He credits trainer Al Martindale for his quick recovery.
"Its going pretty well, thanks to Al. He's been helping me out a lot with treatments. Thanks to him, I'm just feeling more comfortable and getting more confidence in my elbow. Sometimes it hurts when I dribble and when I pass. It's just the direction my elbow goes. But it's getting better."
The Illini have a tough game Tuesday night at 8:45pm at home against Wofford. They are mature, experienced, well coached and confident after losing by three points at Pittsburgh. The Illini then travel to Las Vegas for games Friday and Saturday evenings.