The sky isn't falling. Just ask No. 18 Illinois. Four days after a shocking loss at home that had folks in orange jumping off a cliff, Illinois bounced back and carved up the Ohio State zone defense in a 70-68 victory in a Big Ten Conference game Sunday.
The sky isn't falling. Just ask No. 18 Illinois.
Four days after a shocking loss at home that had folks in orange jumping off a cliff, Illinois bounced back and carved up the Ohio State zone defense in a 70-68 victory in a Big Ten Conference game Sunday.
Sophomore Mike Davis scored 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting from the Buckeyes' soft spot while also grabbing eight rebounds. The Illini shot 58.3 percent from the field and 66.7 from the 3-point line in the second half. Senior Chester Frazier shut down Ohio State scoring whiz Evan Turner for much of the game, building his case for Big Ten defensive player of the year.
After improving to 22-6 overall and 10-5 in the Big Ten, Illinois put another line on a resume that might be enough already for the NCAA selection committee.
"I'm thinking the same thing you're thinking like we're already in, but we can't think that way,'' Davis said. "We came out against Penn State, thought we were in the tournament already, played lackadaisically and didn't have much enthusiasm.''
The victory kept Illinois in third place in the Big Ten. The Illini host Minnesota on Thursday (6 p.m., Big Ten Network), the first of two straight home games in the final three dates of the regular season. After losing 38-33 to Penn State on Wednesday -- the lowest output by Illinois in 62 years -- Illinois took another step closer to reaching coach Bruce Weber's goal of 24 victories.
"If we get to 23 or 24, I will feel a little more comfortable,'' Weber said. "I feel good right now. We got to 10. That's a big number in the league. I don't want to end up 10-8. If we get to 11, I'll be happy and 12 even happier. If you get to 12 or 13, you're talking about a little better seed.
"These quality wins on the road, that's what (the selection committee) is talking about.''
After the debacle against the Nittany Lions, Weber didn't sleep, watching the sun rise Thursday and then enduring a marathon day on a recruiting trip to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. The players found themselves the butt of jokes in TV reports, newspapers and the Internet.
"Everyone was making fun of us,'' Davis said. "It kind of hurt a little bit to hear them put us down. We showed some resilience and showed we can play with anybody.''
The Penn State game was an example in building character, Weber said, but he might have learned one thing. He won't be easy on these Illini. Weber will push a relatively young roster down the stretch.
"The problem in March is that you can't have a letdown,'' Weber said. "Then you're done. We have to get to the point where they understand that. A game like this is like an NCAA game. They keep making runs at you and keep making plays. We made some mistakes. For the most part, we made plays.''
Ohio State (17-8, 7-7) lost its third straight game and had them muttering "NIT'' in Value City Arena.
Davis scored eight points in the first 6 minutes, and the Illini never trailed. Relying on one-handed baskets in the lane, Davis and his soft shot became the key element.
"The mid-range jump shot around the elbows, that's my shot,'' Davis said. "It was pretty easy.''
Illinois took a 58-48 lead with 6:01 left on a 25-foot rainbow, the first of two beat-the-shot-clock 3-pointers by Frazier. Illinois still led 67-61 on Davis' rebound basket with 49 seconds left. But Ohio State pulled to 67-65 on a four-point play -- a basket by Turner and rebound basket by P.J. Hill off a missed Turner free throw. The Illini went 3-for-6 at the free-throw line in the final 36.2 seconds, and Turner's desperation full-court throw was short.
Guard Trent Meacham had 17 points and six assists. Guard Demetri McCamey finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Frazier hounded Turner, the leading scorer in Big Ten play with an 18.1 average who missed his first five shots before a late scoring flurry. Turner, a former prep teammate of McCamey, had 17 points, but they came on 6-for-15 shooting.
"Every time I touched the ball, they were screaming, 'Help,''' Turner said. "It was pretty much a little guy in front of me and two or three people shadowing me. I was moving the ball and playing with what they gave me. No one man can go past three people.''
NOTES: Illinois won here for the first time since 2004. The NCAA runner-up team in 2005 swallowed its only regular-season loss here. … McCamey's 3-pointer gave the Illini 35 points with 18:37 left, surpassing the total of 33 scored in the loss to Penn State. … Weber is 150-53 in his sixth season at Illinois.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois report card
Front court: A
Mike Davis found the openings in the zone. His soft one-handers put the Illini in the lead -- he scored eight of Illinois' first 13 points -- and his rebound basket off an Illini miss with 1 minute left was the play of the game. Mike Tisdale was solid.
Back court: A
While Trent Meacham and Demetri McCamey combined for 32 points, Chester Frazier spent the first 33 minutes shutting down Ohio State scorer Evan Turner. Even though Turner heated up late, Frazier buried two big 3-pointers to hold off Ohio State.
The rotation is getting really short. OK, maybe the reserves didn't get a chance. According to the box score, they provided little but some cheerleading. Coach Bruce Weber went with his starters for all but 4 minutes in the second half.
According to Illinois fans, we'd reached the end of the world sometime Wednesday evening, when the Illini fell 38-33 to Penn State. By blowing a home game, the Illini would head into a tailspin, the pessimists said. In a season where little was expected before the opening tip, Illinois bounced back from the demoralizing loss and essentially clinched a berth in the NCAAs.