Boise State Visits High Flying Illini In Hall

The Fighting Illini basketball team needs to bounce back quickly from its emotional high Wednesday night as it takes on Boise State Saturday night in the Assembly Hall. But before they could prepare for the Broncos, Illini players and coaches had to put their great comeback win over the Clemson Tigers to bed.

It was hard not to talk about the immediate past as media met Illinois players before Thursday's practice. The Illini may have come of age the night before against Clemson, and they learned a great deal that could help them down the road.

First and foremost, juniors Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey began to show leadership qualities necessary for a successful season. Davis realized their backs were against the wall.

"We said at halftime that me, Mike and Demetri had to be leaders and step up. And that's what we did. We said we wouldn't lose, and we didn't lose."

He believes all three now have the confidence to serve as leaders the rest of the season.

"Definitely. Our goal now is to go through nonconference without losing. I think we can do that. The way we played the second half we should play the whole game every game. I think if we do that, we shouldn't lose."

Davis was also uplifted by the poise his team showed down the stretch. They know they can come from behind to win and can play sound ball under harsh conditions.

"Yeah, we took the lead, and they took the lead right back. We didn't fold, we didn't get tight. We kept playing, kept our poise and won the game."

Tisdale wants to encourage his teammates more, but he gets down on himself easily. The failures in Las Vegas, on top of their miserable freshman season, reminded all the upperclassmen they had to think team first to be winners.

"Yeah, Coach has been asking us to be leaders from the beginning," Tisdale reminds. "I think last night proved that if we do that, we can be successful.

"I don't think I could have looked at Coach's face if we'd lost. I just realized after Las Vegas we can't afford another loss. We came out with a better attitude, a little more gumption and got the win.

"When we lost two games in Vegas we weren't necessarily panicking, but we looked back on the nightmares of that season (2007-2008). The upperclassmen said, 'We don't want to go through that again.' I think the second half we proved we can play."

As a point guard, McCamey should be a leader. But he hasn't lived up to Weber's expectations in that regard. The coach thinks Clemson may have been a turning point for McCamey. Ironically, it occurred in a game where he sat out half the game with foul problems.

"It was a big confidence booster for us. Coach Weber says he doesn't know how long it will take us to become a team. I think we showed that second half. Me, Mike and Tisdale were vocal and talkative. That's the way we've got to play from the word 'Go.'

"I'm not used to sitting on the bench. I was clapping and cheerleading, doing everything I could from the bench. When I did go in, I tried to play smart. I still got four fouls. I tried to control the game to make sure we didn't have as many turnovers as we had the first half.

"One thing we were missing out in Vegas was a vocal leader, so I tried to be that and come to Clemson with that mentality."

The Illini couldn't have won without big contributions from freshmen Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Both joined the leadership parade by encouraging their teammates during the game.

"In the huddle, I said to the guys, 'We've got to leave our hearts out on the floor,'" Richardson said.

A team filled with fragile egos may have come of age against Clemson. The confidence boost alone may sustain them the rest of the season.

"It gives us a boost of confidence," Tisdale agrees. "It lets the freshmen know they can play now. Demetri played a major role. But it was good. The freshmen stepped up (in his absence), and that was important for them."

McCamey was proud how well the freshmen played.

"They helped themselves tremendously. They played okay in Vegas, and then they come up against one of the top 20 teams in the country in Clemson. Producing like that is gonna give high hopes to us and to them as well."

Hopefully, the Illini can put the big win behind them in time to prepare for Coach Greg Graham's Boise State team. Weber says they are highly athletic.

"Boise State scores quite a few points. They're getting close to 80 points a game. They've had some pretty high scoring games. They will push it. They've got five guys in double figures. Their point guard (La'Shard Anderson, 6'-1", 170) is quick and can push the basketball.

"(Ike) Okoye (6'-9", 235) is a long, athletic forward. He's got the long athleticism of a Mike Davis, and he has some inside prowess of maybe a (Trevor) Booker. And they have a big guy inside (Kurt Cunningham, 6'-9", 265) that does a good job of sealing. They will mix some zone. They've played some games all zone and some games all man. It'll be a tough matchup for us."

Four juniors and one senior start. Okoye averages 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game to lead the team. Anderson is close behind with 13.3 points. He has dished out 24 assists on the young season. Robert Arnold (6'-6", 170) goes for 12.4 points and 3.6 rebounds, Paul Noonan (6'-7", 214) follows at 11.7 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting .424 from the three point line. Lone senior Cunningham averages 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Other players who figure to see plenty of playing time include Daequon Montreal (6'-7", 227 junior), Anthony Thomas (6'-0", 211 senior), and Westly Perryman (6'-3", 183 junior). Perryman is also a sharpshooter from three.

Weber reminds that Illinois must continue to improve defensively and offensively.

"We still need to improve. The leadership, execution, and that extra will to win will be the big things I watch as we progress over this next week.

"We've still got to get better defensively. Some of it is desire by the older guys to make it important. But also for the freshmen, a lot of it's new to them. To help teammates, to help defend before your man gets the ball, the different schemes we might run. I hope the execution, the consistency as we go on in the season will be there.

"And then offensively, when we play against tough defenses. How are we gonna be able to score in the half court? It's doing the little things, the screening, the cutting, the setting up your cuts, learning how to drag a guy on a ball screen, getting it to the open man on the space and then making the next pass.

"If we can do those things, add to what we saw the other night, then we have a chance to be pretty good. Consistency is one of our biggest challenges."

Weber has begun to use a zone defense with some positive effect.

"We've got to practice it and then continue to use it as a change up. It worked the other night. We used it one possession against Wolford, and we got a shut out. So we've got a little more confidence in it. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don't. But we still have to work at our man-to-man and get better at that."

The Illini are riding high right now, but their focus is on Boise State and the remaining schedule.

* Davis: "It's big. I think it shifted our season back up. If we lose that game by 20 or something, we're down in the gutter. Everyone would be hiding in the locker and stuff like that. Hopefully, we can use this momentum to keep it going."

* Tisdale: "We can't get so high that when we get Boise we drop. Take the win, be happy with that and have some pride, but focus on the next opponent and not expect the momentum from that game to carry us through everything else."

* Paul: "It's a great win for us, but we can't lay down now. We've got to keep going and get ready for the games we've got ahead of us."

* McCamey: "The win at Clemson was great, but we've still got a long season ahead of us."

* Richardson: "This helps us get our confidence back. I think we needed that win pretty big. They were a top 25 team, but we've got Boise State this Saturday and Vanderbilt. So we've got some challenges ahead of us."

* Weber: "The big question now is, where do we go from here? We had a win that helped the Big 10 have their first advantage in the Big 10/ACC Challenge, so that was a positive thing. Maybe we made up one of the losses in Vegas, but we still have a good stretch coming up with three home games in the next 8 days. None of them are easy games."

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