Lost Weekend In Las Vegas For Illini

The Fighting Illini basketball team returns to Champaign with its first two losses of the young season as the Bradley Braves shocked them in the third place game of the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament Saturday night 72-68. Bradley played with more emotion and teamwork, leaving the Illini wondering who would lead the team out of their doldrums.

Bradley began the game with great focus, wanting to defeat its big brother from the Big 10. Meanwhile, the Illini had self-doubts from their loss to Utah and came out lethargically. Illinois coach Bruce Weber confirmed the team's attitude to begin the game.

"In the beginning, we played like a team that just lost a game on a last second shot. We were pretty flat-footed and feeling sorry for ourselves. We were lucky we didn't get down too much.

"Our guys don't understand. I told them before the game the Braves are better than Utah. A couple of them rolled their eyes, and I said, 'Guys, I'm not making this up.' And you add in the motivation of playing an in-state team, you've got to get ready to play. They didn't."

It was a game of runs. Bradley took an early lead, but the Illini responded with a 17-3 run to gain a 23-17 advantage. Dominique Keller added a spark again off the bench, scoring all six of his points in one flurry. Bill Cole also offered intensity to aid the Illini cause. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis each scored four points in the run.

The teams exchanged leads the rest of the half. Davis' layin before the buzzer gave UI a 29-28 edge going into the locker room.

Whatever momentum boost the halftime lead might have provided, Bradley got the early points to begin the second half.

"We talked about how we needed to come out with great energy the first five minutes of the second half, and they hit three threes," Weber recalled.

The Illini eventually got back into the game and took their biggest lead at 66-61 at the 3:08 mark on two Mike Tisdale free throws. But the Braves scored the next nine points to seal the victory.

"We come all the way back and take a five point lead with the ball," Weber said. "We didn't execute down the stretch and didn't get the shots. Demetri had a pull up, D.J. had a three, Mike Davis had a little shot. We just didn't make them, and to their credit they made them."

One major weakness of the Illinois team was exposed in Las Vegas. Without the graduated Chester Frazier to lead them, the Illini upperclassmen have not yet taken responsibility for the success of the team. Weber continues to cajole the juniors especially to grow up.

"Our older guys have to play every day. Mike Davis played tonight, but he didn't play last night. Demetri played last night, but he didn't play tonight. Mike Tisdale was pretty consistent."

Jeff Jordan played extensively and improved point guard play according to Weber.

"We've got to get Demetri to guard. Jeff pushes it, he gets in the lane and dishes. He had four assists and one turnover."

Bradley put all five starters in double figures. Andrew Warren led the Braves with 16 points, Chris Roberts had 13, and Will Egolf, Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco added 12 each. Maniscalco hit all 9 of his free throws, including the final two to salt the victory. They shot only 40% for the night and were outrebounded 45-32, but they committed only 10 turnovers and played more aggressively the whole night.

Davis ended with 17 points to lead the Illini. To his credit, he kept battling despite missing shots early. Tisdale added 12 points but had to sit out stretches with foul trouble. McCamey added ten points, while Keller scored 6 points, Brandon Paul 5 and Jordan 4. The Illini shot a paltry 39% for the night and didn't register a three until late in the game.

Bradley now has bragging rights, perhaps for a lengthy period of time. Weber and his Peoria Illini will have trouble living down this loss.

"We'll continue to hear about this one. I've got to go to Peoria alot. To their credit, they played their hearts out."

Illinois now travels to Clemson for a Wednesday encounter as part of the Big 10/ACC challenge. After these two losses, Illini confidence is not where it needs to be to face a talented Tigers team.

"It's very disappointing. We've got to learn from it. There's a long way to go. It doesn't get any easier. We go to Clemson next. But a lot of things can happen. We have to grow up."

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