Just when it looked like Illinois was
overcoming injuries, disciplinary issues and fan/media
fascination with former coaches, Weber was hit with another bit of
bad news. Junior starter Luther Head faced yet another legal
challenge, as he was supposedly arrested on Tuesday evening for
several traffic violations, including running a red light and
driving with a suspended license. Head was dressed for the game but
did not play, and Weber said any decision on further disciplinary
action would come at a later date.
Can't Weber catch a break from the
craziness? Thank goodness the Illini decided to make a statement and
win their first conference game at the Assembly Hall Wednesday
This writer was concerned the sub-par
effort on Saturday against Illinois State, and the loss of Head
could really be a problem for Illinois. However, another problem
became apparent just seconds into the game. Early on, referees Art
McDonald and Donnee Gray made sure all 16,500 in attendance knew
they were in the house, as they whistled eight fouls in the first
four-plus minutes of the game.
Illinois jumped out to a quick 10-5
lead after back-to-back 3-point buckets by Rich (not Richard any
longer) McBride and Dee Brown. Shortly after, Illinois center James
Augustine picked up his second foul and was sent to the bench for
the remainder of the half.
The hometown heroes didn't panic
however, and after letting the Buckeyes stay with six for the first
nine minutes of the game, Illinois went on a 23-4 run to a take a
commanding 33-11 lead five minutes before the half. Playing
especially well for the Illini were center Nick Smith, who scored 10
points and really showed some great hustle during this run, and
Brown, who led the team in scoring (14 points) and emotion.
A 9-2 run by Ohio State drew the
Buckeyes within 39-22 at the break, but two things were obvious from
the first 20 minutes of play: First, Ohio State has really dropped
off from their championship run just two years ago. And second,
Illinois' effort Saturday against ISU was just a blip on the screen.
Illinois looked quicker, played smarter and shot much better, as
Ohio went just 6-of-21 from the field and didn't make any of their
six 3-point attempts.
Coach Jim O'Brien, who has battled his
loss of voice all season long, started three new players to begin
the second half in an effort to spark the visitors from Ohio. The
plan seemed to work early on, as the Buckeyes cut the Illinois to 11
at 49-38 in the first four-plus minutes of the second half. Two
3-pointers by reserve Ricardo Billings and a 3 from sub Tony
Stockman helped key the Buckeye charge as they began the half with
6-of-9 shooting from the field.
[to top of second column in this
If Illinois has had a consistent
weakness in games this season, it is the inability to sustain strong
first-half runs and allow teams to get back into games -- and that
is exactly what happened early in the second half Wednesday night.
Illinois refused to fold, however, and
responded with a nice 13-4 run to extend the lead to 20 at 62-42.
McBride scored five during the run, and Nick Smith continued his
strong scoring as Illinois attempted to end the suspense midway
through the second half. The final 10 minutes of the game saw plenty
of sloppy basketball and lots of free throws as the Illini cruised
to victory 85-63.
The refs were in midseason form, as
they whistled an amazing 55 fouls and allowed 40 free-throw attempts
in the second half alone! Can someone please let them know the game
is not about them -- it is about the players?
The Illini received a career-high 22
points from Smith and were also paced by Brown's 16 points and 11
points from the freshman McBride. Brian Randle and James Augustine
both also reached double figures, scoring 10 points each. Augustine
reached double figures despite playing just 10 minutes because of
foul trouble in each half. Six Illini in double figures on a night
they had to go without a starter is a sign of the team that has
Illinois moved to 10-2 on the season
and began the conference season in style, winning their first game.
Illinois will return to action Saturday
at the Assembly Hall against Purdue, who lost their conference
opener on the road Wednesday night to Iowa 71-61.
Penn State beat Minnesota 75-72 and
Michigan beat Northwestern 78-54 as well on Wednesday night, while
Wisconsin blew out Indiana 79-45 on Tuesday.
Game time Saturday is set for 3:30
p.m., and the game can be seen on WCIA Channel 3.
Weekend Big Ten games:
- Michigan State at Wisconsin
11 a.m. Saturday (national TV -- ESPN)
- Ohio State at Penn State
11:15 a.m. Saturday
- Northwestern at Iowa
1:30 p.m. Saturday
- Purdue at Illinois
3:30 p.m. Saturday
- Princeton at Minnesota
7 p.m. Saturday
- Indiana at Michigan
3:30 p.m. Sunday (national TV -- CBS)