Illinois scored enough to defeat Boise State, but just barely. Like the Illini football team in its 53-52 loss to Fresno State earlier in the day, defense was lacking. Coach Bruce Weber feared a repeat of that loss.
"To say we were not happy is an understatement. Coach Zook, we feel so badly how they lost that game. And I'm thinking as it got down to the end, all of a sudden something's gonna bounce the wrong way on us. But it didn't.
"To our kids' credit, we made good plays down the stretch. I guess we've grown up a little bit since Utah and Bradley with doing that. Should we have been in that situation, no."
The first half was a see saw affair, with the lead changing hands throughout. The Illini took a 42-38 lead into the locker room, but they knew they were in for a fight.
They got out quick to begin the second half, but they couldn't sustain it. A six point run pushed the lead to ten points. Brandon Paul penetrated for a bank shot. Dominique Keller made a steal near midcourt and dunked the ball, and he came back on the next possession to penetrate for a bank at 68-58. But a series of blunders allowed the Broncos back into the game.
Weber was displeased with the defense and is becoming more concerned about it with each passing game. Good defense requires creating good habits, understanding situations and how to respond to them, preparation and a determination and pride to play hard. The Illini are not doing enough of that to date.
Three juniors spoke along similar lines afterward. They were as disappointed in themselves as Weber was in them.
"It doesn't really feel like a win," Mike Davis admitted. "We got dominated inside, and they penetrated on us. We have a lot to work on. We've got to step and lead this team."
Demetri McCamey agreed.
"Offense only carries you so far. We've got to work on defense. I've got to do a better job leading this team and cutting down on turnovers"
Mike Tisdale was anything but happy afterward.
"It's pretty bad when you get a disappointing win. We've got to step it up."
Boise State coach Greg Graham was understandably proud of his players, but he also complimented the Illini.
"They've got a good squad. They set the tone for their team on Wednesday against Clemson. They now know they're not out of games. That will pay off later in the season.
"They've got five guys in double figures. That's one of their strengths. You can't double up on one player. McCamey was key for them. He doesn't look like a point guard, but he's a big strong leader."
McCamey led the Illini with 23 points on 8-11 shooting and 4-5 from the arc. He had two assists but an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. Davis had another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, including 6 off the offensive glass. D.J. Richardson added 14 points, while Tisdale and Paul added 10 each. Tisdale didn't get his first shot until late in the second half.
The Broncos had four players in double figures, led by Ike Okoye with 20. He also grabbed 9 boards. La'shard Anderson scored 14, Robert Arnold 13 and Anthony Thomas 10. They shot a lofty 55.6% for the game, repeatedly breaking down the Illini defense for layups and open threes.
Weber did site some positive aspects of his team's play, including an inbounds pass that broke down the Bronco defense under 15 seconds.
"Mike Tisdale didn't get much done early but was big down the stretch. We shot threes well and made our free throws at the end. I thought Demetri made a great pass to D.J. at the end on the long throw when we were stuck. So there are some good things."
The crowd was less than full strength, but Weber says the team must incite the fans to help them more in close games.
"We never became intimidating at home, and we need that. If we're gonna continue to make progress we can't play this way, especially on the defensive end."