Second-seeded Purdue certainly used that defense to its benefit during Friday's Big Ten quarterfinal. The Boilers forced the Illini into a season-worst 23 turnovers.
But in overtime, Illinois made Purdue pay for its overaggressive with multiple backdoor layup that paved the way for the second-biggest upset (in terms of seeding) in Big Ten tournament history.
Tenth-seeded Illinois moved into Saturday's semifinal largely because its freshmen matched Purdue's more ballyhooed freshmen.
Rookie point guard Demetri McCamey poured in a game-high 26 points as he made all six of his 3-point attempts, including a 24-footer that sent the game into overtime.
Forward Mike Davis came off the bench to deliver a career-high-tying 10 points in 17 minutes — including a spectacular hanging putback in overtime — and freshman walk-on Jeff Jordan added 4 points and 2 assists during 15 critical minutes in reserve.
In total, Illinois' four freshmen piled up 40 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Purdue's four freshmen finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
IN FOCUS: Illinois fans might be stunned to see Illinois a win away from the conference championship game. The Illini faithful, like the Illini, are also probably a bit shocked not to see Indiana on the other side of the bracket.
Minnesota is similar to Illinois in many ways. The Gophers are strong defensively and dedicated to rebounding and managing every possession. Neither team has a lot of offensive firepower. Expect a tug of war played in the 60s — perhaps 50s — that might force Illinois to make a critical free throw or two.
If McCamey drills his first 3-pointer, defenses might as well forget it.
That's what happened in Illinois' 74-67 overtime upset of Purdue Friday night. McCamey wound up with 26 points — the second-highest showing of his career — as he went 6 for 6 from 3-point range.
He made step-back 3-pointers in defenders' faces, he made off-balance 3-pointers, he made 24-footers when the pressure was highest.
How much did Illinois need McCamey's hot shooting? His teammates went 0 for 4 from 3-point range for the night.
Though Pruitt didn't make his free throws (he went 0-for-4), he did everything else the Illini needed for a win.
He finished with 14 points (on 7-for-9 shooting) to help the Illini rack up a 35-18 advantage in the paint. He also grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds.
Davis delivered big on both counts against Purdue as he rang up 10 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
The slender Davis displayed his versatility by scoring in numerous ways. He posted up and hit a short turnaround flip...he nailed a 15-footer...he followed a missed Demetri McCamey layup in overtime and hung in the air for a spectacular putback.
Thanks to injuries and foul trouble, Weber played the last minute of the first half against Minnesota Saturday with two walk-ons and two backup freshmen on the floor.
Just 15 days after suffering his apparent season-ending injury against Wisconsin, Randle played 10 emergency minutes off the bench against Michigan State. Then he felt good enough to start on Senior Day against Minnesota and delivered a season-high 12 rebounds with four points, three assists and two blocks.
Randle, who played with his right shoulder taped up, ought to be good to start during the Big Ten tournament.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Brian Randle, C Shaun Pruitt, G Chester Frazier, G Trent Meacham, G Demetri McCamey. Key Subs — F Calvin Brock, C Mike Tisdale, F Rodney Alexander, F Mike Davis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Like most of the season, when you don't shoot the ball well and you don't shoot free throws well, it takes a toll on you." Illinois coach Bruce Weber in the Daily Herald after his guys made just 2 of 15 3-pointers and 9 of 19 free throws in a 59-51 home loss to Michigan State.
Illinois 64, Penn State 63 (Big Ten tournament first round)
Illinois 74, Purdue 67 (OT) (Big Ten tournament quarterfinal)
vs. Minnesota, Saturday, March 15 (Big Ten tournament semifinal)