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Saturday, March 20

Illinois debunks the 5-12 myth
Illini run past Racers, 72-53                                                
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[MARCH 20, 2004]  COLUMBUS, OHIO-The NCAA once again tried to heap the pressure on the Illini.  The selection committee thinks its cute to have Illinois play Arizona, Kansas or some really hot lower seeded team that they hope will bounce the Illini and confirm their lies about how down the Big Ten is in any given year.    Memo to the selection moguls:  Nice try-it didn’t work.

Illinois used an 18-2 run towards the end of the first half to send the NCAA, the Racers and an electrified crowd (including several orange-clad faithful) the message of who the better team was. After sharp-shooter Chris Shumate nailed a three to give Murray State a 21-17 advantage, the Illini began to compose their message to debunk the skeptics. They were doggedly determined to dismiss the 5-12 myth. In fact, Deron Williams said it best for the Illini when he proclaimed earlier in the week, “… everybody seems to think we’re going lose. I don’t know about them, but we’re here to win!”

Jack Ingram, who had another commanding performance, got the big run started by drilling two free throws. Deron Williams followed that up by spotting up deep in the corner and firing in a long three. Dee Brown followed a relentless wave of Illinois offensive rebounding prowess by knocking down a jumper.
From there it was a steal by Augie and the resulting foul netted Augustine & the Illini another point to push the lead to 25-21 with 4:23 left in the opening half. The Racer’s star, Cuthbert Victor converted two charity tosses to stop some of the bleeding, but the Racer’s 12th seeded ship was taking on water and the hoped-for upset was beginning to evaporate.

Illinois continued to step it up. Deron Williams nailed another 3-pointer and Roger Powell buried a lay-up. RP followed that all up with another rebound and a dish for three by Luther Head. Powell, who told the LDN he was 100% during the game, loves the flow of a good run and so he threw-in another jumper. That was as big as the first half lead got at 35-23.

Several breakdowns including a couple of turnovers to go with some costly mental errors allowed Murray State to gain some much needed momentum before the intermission buzzer as they trimmed the lead to 35-28. Since they would get the ball first in the second half, Illini nation was unsettled to say the least.

That’s when Illinois did what every loyal fan loves to see. They came out after the break with purpose and intentionality! By the first media timeout the Illini were up by 12 and had chances to put the pesky Racers away. To Coach Cronin and his team’s credit they would not go away quietly. They wanted to prove the NCAA and the breaktologists correct and made a mild run.

But on this day, the Fighting Illini of Chief Illiniwek land, were too much to handle. They were one #5 that never intended to be scalped by a #12. From the 7:56 mark to the end of the game Illinois handled pressure and comeback bids the way fans would script them for Coach Weber. They spread the floor and used the shot clock to their advantage getting and taking only the shots that they wanted.

Bouncing back from the tough loss to Wisconsin last Sunday in Indy, it was good to see such a nice effort. The real problem might be determining how much is left in the tank for Sunday’s physical showdown with the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Dee Brown continued his sizzling play of late by leading the Illini in scoring with 21 points. Roger Powell bounced back nicely with 11 and James Augustine added 10 points and 8 rebounds. Jack Ingram continued his month of amazing magic from off the bench with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Deron Williams dished out 8 assists and 0 turnovers. The Illini torched the nets for 56% shooting in the second half on their way to 45% for the game and they also shot 69% from the line.

A huge key to the game was that they out-rebounded the out-manned Racers 44-27, including 16 huge offensive caroms. Illinois’ domination was evident in a 30-14 edge in points in the paint and 18-6, in points off turnovers.

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Murray State’s senior guard, Rick Jones called Illinois, “…the quickest team we faced all year. I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way. I hope the team that beats us goes all the way to the championship.” What he failed to mention was that even the NCAA couldn’t set this game up as the dreaded 5-12 match-up where the 5 crashes and goes down in flames. The Illini dispelled that myth quite convincingly.

Quotable Quotes:

LDN: Coach Weber-You spoke of the baseline action you were able to get. Was that because of the penetration that Deron and some of the other guys were able to get or was it just the shrewd call at the right time?
CW: We got some dribble penetration from the wing into the zone. We kept telling them at the timeouts and at halftime, they were just spreading it out and matching up with us. Our bigs weren’t doing a good job flashing and were not effective when they did flash. So we said that we had to use our dribble. But we ran three quick hitters on the base line. Actually, we were running man to man plays and I just, on a whim, you think they’re matching up, go with it, try to get it along the baseline and we were able to get it in to Jack and they got a goal tend, I think James got a lay-up, boom, boom, boom, that was part of the break away, then your defense picks up, hit a couple of steals and you get up 14, 15 points and it’s tough to come back with four or five minutes left in the game.

LDN to Roger Powell: How did you feel?
RP: I felt great during the game…100%. I have a headache now, but I’ll be fine later. It felt great getting back in and contributing.

Notes:

The only other time Illinois played Murray State was in the 1980 NIT and the Illini won at home 65-63.

The Illini now stand at 31-24 in their 24 NCAA appearances.

Illinois has now advanced to the second round in their last seven consecutive NCAA appearances.

Illinois will meet the Cincinnati Bearcats of Coach Bob Huggins on Sunday for the first time since the middle 80’s.

Kentucky vs. UAB is the other game here in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday.
 

[LDN "Staff"]

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