Smith shines against Trojans

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Online Poster

By Courtney Linehan

With a freshman leading the scoring drive, No. 11 Illinois proved youth is not such a bad thing as the team pulled out another victory Monday night, surpassing Arkansas-Little Rock 75-49.

Big Ten Player of the Week James Augustine had seven rebounds, and All-American point guard Dee Brown scored just six points. But the seniors did not need to steal the show this time through.

Jamar Smith, the freshman guard from Peoria, led Illinois (8-0) with 23 points. In only the eighth game of his college career, he set a personal record on 8-of-10 shooting, which included 75 percent shooting from three-point range.

“He played great,” Brown said of his freshman teammate. “He took over the game, scored some baskets. It was self-explanatory. He played crazy.”

The Trojans stuck with Illinois through the first half, and after 20 minutes the Illini led by just four points. But Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields said he was not happy with how his team performed.

“We played much more crisp against Michigan State than we did tonight,” Shields said. “I felt much more fortunate to be down four at half.”

Illinois struggled to break away until Smith followed up a Brian Randle layup with a three-pointer on a fast break. It was eight minutes into the second half, and the Trojans would not put another basket on the scoreboard until there was just 6:39 to go, as Illinois went on a 19-0 run.

“I think we just kind of did everything,” Augustine said. “One thing went right, then the next thing went right, and we just got into the game. One thing leads to another and before you know it we went on a 19-0 run.”

Shields said Illinois’ rebounding made all the difference. The Illini outrebounded the Trojans 41-28, grabbing 26 defensive boards to Arkansas-Little Rock’s 15 offensive.

“We got whipped on the glass tonight,” Shields said.

Even the wave, a staple of last season’s home blowouts, made a comeback late in the second half. That came 1:15 before walk-on Chris Hicks hit the court.

But while the final score looked familiar to those who attended last year’s nonconference games, Weber is not satisfied with where the team now stands. Weber said that with little practice time between contests, he has not been able to change up the offense the way he would like to. The defense, he said, is carrying the team at this point.

“Our offense is not good. Our timing, our execution, we haven’t had time to make adjustments,” Weber said. “The one thing we’ve continued to keep as our constant is our defense. It carried us early, it carried us tonight, and I hope it continues carrying us at least until Christmas.”

For now the Illini have two days of practice before next facing Georgetown on Thursday. While some players have been practicing on their own – Brown shot at Ubben on Sunday and Smith worked on his game at the Intramural Physical Education Building – he is glad to have some practice time back in his control.

“We’ve been to four venues in eight days. It takes a toll on you travel-wise,” Weber said. “We haven’t practiced in two weeks, really. We were out of sync offensively because we just don’t have much timing, we haven’t had much practice with it. We need reps.”