Illini successful in road test

Online Poster

By Ian Gold

WASHINGTON – The Illini were bombarded withcalls of “Sooeee” from the Razorback-friendly in Arkansas. So when they entered the MCI Center, they were surprised by a more friendly “I-L-L I-N-I.”

Illini fever had made its way as far east as the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and the temperature remained high after a blow-for-blow game against Georgetown. Illinois outlasted the Hoyas and won 74-59.

The first half was close, and Illinois ran into trouble when the early threes weren’t falling.

“In practice, I had the guards run drills where they weren’t allowed to shoot threes,” head coach Bruce Weber said.

Illinois has shot lights-out from downtown for most of the season, but Weber realized that through this tough stretch of games, the midrange-short game could be the difference. While the Illini faithful made their uplifting orange mark on attendance, the Hoya section changed the flow.

The Hoya student section hoisted signs stating that “God was on our side.” Whether they were hoping for an instant-classic, miracle-type game or just felt the divine presence, they didn’t count on Illinois having the reverend on its side. Roger Powell Jr. led the Illini in scoring with 19 points, shooting 8 of 11 from the field.

Early on it seemed that the Hoya student section’s constant chants of “Bull****” didn’t hurt their karma as the Hoyas opened up hot. Junior guard Ashanti Cook was burying shots from deep and freshman forward Jeff Green was reminiscent of past Georgetown big men Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. Green, though, found himself in early foul trouble, and although he finished leading all scorers with 20 points, he was limited to eight first-half minutes.

The Hoya crowd made its final mistake with its own team leading by seven with 6:25 left in the first half. The section prematurely started chanting “Overrated” at the Illini. The Illini emotional leader Dee Brown did not approve of the Hoya fans’ early assessment, ripping the ball away from the Georgetown point guard and taking it the length of the court for a layup. What followed was a 10-0 Illini run and a late intensity that put Illinois up seven going into the half.

“The kids said that the students were chanting ‘Overrated’ during warm-ups,” Weber said. “They were laughing a little because usually it happens a little later in the game. They hadn’t even seen us play.”

With the Illini guards having trouble finding their shot, the team noticed it could go inside. James Augustine benefited, showing off his offensive skills with 15 points and six rebounds. Augustine also sparked the defense with three steals.

“Coach just said screen and pop, screen and roll to the baskets – and it worked out well for us,” Augustine said.

Illinois had to make early defensive adjustments to the Hoyas’ “Princeton” offense. The changes were made mentally; Weber instructed his squad to just play and stop worrying about all the intricacies.

“When you have to prepare for (Georgetown’s) system, sometimes you mind-freeze the guys,” Weber said. “They are worrying too much about ‘What are we doing?’ At one of the timeouts we just said, ‘You’ve got to get after them, you’ve got to get some energy.’ And that’s when we picked it up and got it going.”

Illinois’ next game is at the United Center against Oregon on Saturday.

“Before the game, coach just told us to get some energy,” Augustine said. “Just get through this game and into Chicago, and then just worry about finals.”