Home court heroes dominate Boilermakers

By Ryan Dixon

Night and Day. I believe that’s the best way to describe the difference in Illinois’ play at Assembly Hall and on the road.

Nobody expected the Illini to come out and trounce Matt Painter’s Boilermakers the way they did Sunday afternoon. But the Illinois-Purdue game sealed it for me. I’m thoroughly convinced Illinois is a different team in the House of ‘Paign.

Here’s why.

Defensive Pressure

I’ll give you two stats. Illinois held Purdue, which averages a shade over 70 points per game, to a season-low 48 points (32 percent shooting). The Orange and Blue also limited E’Twaun Moore to only 2-of-9 from the field and six points.

Purdue was one of the favorites to win the Big Ten this season, and the Illini have handled them – twice. The two victories against a highly ranked Purdue squad should prove to be impressive resume items for the NCAA Tournament committee.

Moore averages 14 points per game but was a non-factor Sunday. Actually, according to what I heard from friends who watched on TV, Moore was apparently playing so poorly that CBS sportscaster Verne Lundquist kept confusing Moore with Keaton Grant. Hmmm … they don’t sound the same.

But seriously, the Illini pressured Purdue ball handlers and crashed the boards the best I’ve seen the entire year.

Speaking of boards, Mike Davis posted a studly double-double performance with 16 rebounds and 14 points … I really need to start making him my pick-to-click.

Swagger

The Illini seem to come out with a strut in their step when they’re surrounded by orange. After the game, Mike Davis talked about how much Bruce Weber emphasized “protecting home court.”

Well, not only has Illinois protected home court this season, they’ve been handily defeating opponents at home. But the 18-point win against No. 12 Purdue has been, by far, the most notable win.

Davis has made it a habit of pumping up the crowd after big buckets. It’s apparent that Assembly Hall is more than home court for Illinois.

After the game, one reporter jokingly asked Weber if he could petition to get the Tournament held at Assembly Hall.

Weber couldn’t help but smirk at the question, as he knows his roster seemingly does everything right on home court.

“That would be nice. Big Ten and NCAA,” he said.

Slump Busting

It looks like Trent Meacham just might need some home cooking. Meacham had his biggest offensive outputs against Big Ten foes within the confines of Assembly Hall: 21 points against Indiana, 11 against Michigan and nine against the Boilermakers.

Meacham has been ice-cold for about a month, but his nine points Sunday were his highest total since Jan. 14 against Michigan.

“We respect Meacham,” Painter said. “We know he’s had a tough stretch here shooting the basketball and he’s a better shooter than his percentage is.”

But what really stuck out regarding Painter’s evaluation of the Illini guard was Meacham’s ability to spread Purdue defensively by getting into the paint – an act that would benefit most backcourt players.

Lane penetration helped Meacham record five dimes Sunday, tying him for the team lead with fellow guards Chester Frazier and Demetri McCamey.

The fifth-year senior also looked confident with his catch and release as he poured in three of the Illini’s five baskets from behind the arc.

As a matter of fact, with about 13:30 left in the game, I noticed Painter directing Lewis Jackson to stick on Meacham by shouting “Shooter! Lewis!” at his guard.

Meacham hasn’t been a “shooter” of late, but Sunday might be his turnaround. The breakout would come just in time for an Illini team who desperately needs another road win.

Ryan Dixon is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]