Last-second jumper propels Illini

By Ian Gold

SOUTH PADRE, Texas – Vince Lombari used to say that he never lost, he just ran out of time. With two and a half seconds left on the clock, Bruce Weber drew up a play and snuck away with a 55-54 win.

Wichita State shares Lombardi’s sentiment because Karon Bradley hit a miracle half-courter split seconds after the final buzzer sounded. The referee’s convened at the scoring table briefly and then made it official – the shot came too late, and it appeared that the inbounds passer never stepped out of bounds.

What was not too late was the last second five-foot basket by Warren Carter. It was drawn up to go to Dee Brown, but as Wichita State followed the All-American they forgot about the All-Texan playing in his home state. Carter rolled off and came down the lane uncovered. Illini guard Rich McBride found the open forward and together they gave Illinois the final basket and the one point victory

“Coach Weber, Gary Nottingham and the staff did a good job drawing up a play, and I just dove,” Carter said. “Dee came off the screen and of course the other team is going to guard him, he’s the All-American, and I just got open by slipping.”

Illinois opened up the game trying to go inside. On its first possession it was able to get a high percentage shot from both forwards James Augustine and Shaun Pruitt. But after a hot opening that saw Illinois build a decent lead, they started to play tight and the Shockers came back and took the lead.

“We had a great start to the game, and then the last 15 minutes of the first half we started to play very tentative, almost scared,” Weber said. “This is why we did this, to have the opportunity. Instead of going to North Carolina right away, now we have played on a neutral court, played in a close game and found a way to win.”

Wichita State was led by its frontcourt, former Illini Kyle Wilson got to the foul line and gave Illinois matchup problems inside and out. Center Paul Miller also had a good night inside; Wilson and Miller finished with 12 and 18 points, respectively.

Illinois was able to counter with the Shocker frontcourt. Augustine finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Shaun Pruitt finished as the only other Illini player in double figure scoring with 10.

The close game was a direct result of Illinois not being able to exploit its guard mismatches.

While the Shockers were able to get their best players going, Illinois struggled to get its star in rhythm. Brown finished 3-14 from the field and with as many assists as turnovers.

“We have a guy that’s on the cover of magazines, and we don’t even remember him,” Weber said. “We had five or six possessions were we shot one or two pass shots. We have to do a better job of either getting the ball inside or making sure Dee has a good look at the basket.”

Beating Witchita State allowed the Illini to advance to the tournament championship against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights beat Kent State earlier to remain undefeated on the young season.

“Especially going on the road, to not play very well, they foul a lot, to not hit the shots we want, to not play the defense we want, we’re going to take that,” Augustine said. “We’re going to take that, we are happy with the win and happy with not giving up. The young guys came through and we’ll take it.”