Emotions were running high for the Illinois Fighting Illini on Senior Day in a must win game. In an interesting move, Illinois coach Bruce Weber moved the ceremony honoring the seniors to after the game in order to keep his team more focused. The ploy worked as the Illini (19-12, 9-9 Big Ten) put forth a spirited effort in a 72-48 dismantling of hated rival Indiana (12-19, 3-15 Big Ten). This helped avenge a 52-49 defeat at the hand of the Hoosiers earlier this season.
Senior point guard Demetri McCamey led all scorers with 22 points while fellow senior Mike Davis chipped in 13 points and 9 rebounds. The other two Illini seniors, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole, also had nice performances. It was good to see this senior class play well in their last game at Assembly Hall. They have been a much maligned group throughout their careers, and for good reason. With lofty expectations coming into the year, the Illini have been a disappointment thus far. A lot of the blame can be placed on the seniors’ shoulders, as inconsistent play, lack of toughness, and leadership problems have plagued the team. None of these issues were visible today, allowing the ceremony after the game to be a celebration.
With a vocal home crowd behind them, the Illini jumped on the Hoosiers from the start. McCamey was feeling it, as he knocked down two early threes. This prompted a heat check attempt the next time down the floor. Although he missed, it was obvious that he was playing with a ton of confidence. The rest of his teammates followed suit. Unlike previous games where the team tightened up with a lead, the Illini played free and loose. Players were diving for loose balls, hitting the glass hard, and just having fun out on the court. This energy helped them gain a 46-27 lead at the half while shooting 54.3% from the field.
The second half got a little sloppy, which is natural in such a blowout. Despite this, the Illini never faltered. They pushed the lead out to 29 before settling on the 24 point victory. They did suffer a brief injury scare when freshman forward Jereme Richmond appeared to reaggravate a shoulder injury while diving for a loose ball. However, he was in good spirits on the bench later in the game and it seemed the injury was not too serious. Losing Richmond would have been a huge blow to any possible tournament success.
In the big picture, this was a huge victory for Illinois. A loss and season sweep to the lowly Hoosiers would have put the Illini squarely on the bubble, making a win in the Big Ten Tournament a necessity. As it is, they are likely in the Big Dance even if they slip up in Indianapolis next week. However, winning a few games in the Big Ten Tournament would be nice for seeding purposes. Illinois is set to play Michigan on Friday, March 11th in the 4/5 match-up. The Illini have had some trouble stringing wins together this season, but I am hoping they can build off of the big Senior Day victory. A win over Michigan likely means a game against #1 Ohio State, which could be a huge statement game. But the Illini cannot look ahead and must take care of business against the Wolverines.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.