Surprise, Surprise!

No one really expected any surprises when the Purdue Boilermakers visited the 7th ranked of Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday afternoon. The oddsmakers had installed the undermanned Boilers as 22 point underdogs, and the 76-58 victory by Illinois was rarely in doubt.

But Illinois junior shooting guard Rich McBride decided to bring a little spice to the party.

As a highly ranked prep at Springfield Lanphier High School, McBride showed a complete, sometimes dominating game. He drove the lane at will, had the ability to get to the rim and finish, or stop and fire off a pull-up jumper that was close to unstoppable. And everyone knew about the range on his jumper, which was pretty much anywhere inside the doors of the gym.

However, McBride had been an enigma since arriving at Illinois. His multi-faceted game appeared to have been ground down to a one-dimensional threat. As a backup guard in his first two seasons, McBride became known as a spot-up 3-point shooter. He rarely, if ever, made any attempt to penetrate, and seemed content to fire away from outside, or surrender the ball to his more highly-regarded teammates. Even this year, as a starter, McBride continued to hover around the arc, and when his shot wasn't falling, he was not providing a lot of help on the offensive end.

McBride's game had been the subject of plenty of public angst, on fan message boards, in discussions around water coolers, and even on beat writer's weblogs, where the pros and cons of McBride vs. other players on the roster were analyzed, dissected, and beaten into a pulp, with no real consensus being reached.

On Saturday afternoon, he decided to treat a sold out Assembly Hall crowd to a little bit of "old school" Rich McBride.

It started innocently enough. Purdue had jumped out to a 12-4 lead on the strength of 2 3-pointers, a couple of layups, and generally poor defense by the Illini, along with a series of missed shots on the offensive end. McBride drove the lane, and got fouled on a shot attempt from around the free throw line. He stepped to the line and calmly drained both free throws, his 8th and 9th attempts of the season. Those points triggered an 18-6 Illini run that quickly erased Purdue's lead, and McBride hit a 3-pointer in that span that gave the Illini their first lead of the game.

With less than 3 minutes to go in the half, and Purdue on a 5-0 run that cut the Illini lead to 31-25, McBride again took advantage of freshman Chris Lutz, and was fouled on the drive. McBride again hit both charity tosses, and the Illini went into halftime with a solid 8 point lead, 35-27. The four made free throws by McBride were a career record for both attempts and makes for the junior.

In the second half, McBride got hot. He hit 3 pullup jumpers off the drive, and 2 long 3-pointers, as the Illini pushed their 8 point lead out to as many as 21. McBride led the Illini in scoring with 19 points on 6-10 shooting. The Illini offense shifted gears along with McBride, and Illinois scored on a variety of fast break layups, dunks and 3-pointers as their transition offense and steady defense gradually wore Purdue out.

"He's worked on it, he's added it to his game, he's just got to feel confident about it. Today he looked at the matchups and felt like he could get by Lutz or Green, and maybe this will be a little confidence builder for him," commented head coach Bruce Weber.

"Dee's been telling me (that) when people start running at me, I've got to utilize the shot fake, so that's what I tried to do today, and it was going for me," said McBride. "Once you knock one or two down, you start feeling pretty good about yourself, and I just got it going. I'm just trying to be as consistent as possible. I'm trying to take the pressure off of Dee and James, and just be a factor out that, not just be out there to be out there."

Dee Brown ran the Illini offense at a consistenly high level, and added 12 points and 9 assists. James Augustine added his seventh double-double of the season, and second in a row, scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (including 5 on the offensive end), helping the Illini win the rebound battle 43-29. Jamar Smith added 9 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc, and Brian Randle bounced back from early foul trouble to score 9 points, including another highlight-reel dunk on a fast break in the second half. Marcus Arnold bounced back from a couple of sub-par offensive game by scoring 8, and Shaun Pruitt pulled down 6 rebounds and scored 2 in minutes limited by foul trouble.

After falling behind early, the Illini went on a 31-7 run midway through the first half, triggered by outstanding defense. The Illini forced Purdue into 9 turnovers and 5 empty possessions during the run, which helped offset poor shooting (35%, 18% from behind the 3-point stripe) and early foul trouble for Randle and Jamar Smith.

The Illini now shift their focus to the first "must-win" game of the year, a road date with the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday night. Look for a game preview and quotes from players and coaches about the upcoming WI game on Monday.

GAME NEWS AND NOTES
  1. The Illini are tied for the longest home winning streak in the nation with SIU at 33 games.
  2. Dee Brown moved up to 6th on the all-time Illini scoring list, passing Mark Smith. James Augustine moved up to 24th on the list.
  3. Brown and Augustine moved up to 2nd on the all time wins list, with 107. Nich Smith holds the current record at 110.
  4. Today was the 24th consecutive sellout of Assembly Hall.



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