Illini win despite sloppy day

Illinois´ Marcus Arnold blocks Georgetown´s Darrel Owens in the game on Thursday at Assembly Hall. Arnold played 22 minutes, helping Illinois to win, 58-48. Josh Birnbaum

Illinois´ Marcus Arnold blocks Georgetown´s Darrel Owens in the game on Thursday at Assembly Hall. Arnold played 22 minutes, helping Illinois to win, 58-48. Josh Birnbaum

By Courtney Linehan

A few weeks ago, Bruce Weber asked his players to dedicate the days leading up to finals week to two things: books and basketball.

The request paid off, as Illinois rolls through the third week of its season with a 9-0 record. There’s just one more game before finals – and a week-long break from competition – begin Monday, and Weber’s excited about what his Illini are close to accomplishing.

“It’s hard, but we’ve got a chance to be three weeks of undefeated basketball,” Weber said. “That’s a mouthful. I know our schedule wasn’t the toughest, but we had a lot of travel. We’ve had close games, we’ve found ways to win.”

No. 11 Illinois found a way to win again Thursday night, as the young Illini overcame Georgetown’s Princeton offense and height advantage for a 58-48 win at Assembly Hall.

The game looked messy at times, with Georgetown overcoming a 15-point halftime deficit to cut the margin to eight points late in the game. But Illinois used tough defense and good rebounding to stay out of the red, while the Hoyas struggled to get into the game.

“Their defense is terrific,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “They took us out of a few things, but I think it was as much us as it was what they were doing. We were just a little slow to get going.”

Illinois opened the game with a 10-0 run that included back-to-back three-pointers from Rich McBride. After that, Georgetown never brought the score closer than six points.

“The first half was as good a 20 minutes defensively as I’ve seen in a long time,” Weber said.

Georgetown tried to creep back by starting the second half with three quick buckets, but Illinois answered with a three-point play from Shaun Pruitt. The Hoyas closed Illinois’ lead to 11 with 8:21 left to play and then brought it to eight with 2:30 to go. But Illinois dominated the late scoring, and were able to keep the Hoyas at bay.

“Once we got settled down in the second half, we got the looks we wanted,” Thompson said.

Dee Brown led the Illini with 16 points, three rebounds and three assists. James Augustine added 10 points and 13 boards.

“It’s always a point of emphasis: you want to out rebound your opponent,” Augustine said. “We did well in the first half, kind of slowed down in the second half.”

Weber said Illinois’ crowd played a big part in unsettling Georgetown early in the game. He said he wasn’t sure how the snow would affect the fan turnout, and was thrilled with the support of the community and Krush.

“The Orange Krush, I think that was a little bit intimidating to Georgetown early,” Weber said. “I think our defense had something to do with it, but you get that crowd going, the Krush is bouncing and moving, and it’s an intimidating place.”

But Thompson emphasized that Weber and his team deserve credit, saying Illinois looks like a National Championship contender. Georgetown squeezed out a win over Oregon last weekend, and Thompson said he expects to see a tough matchup when the Illini head to Portland to play the Ducks on Saturday.

“They’re two very good teams, and I’m not sure what will happen,” Thompson said. “We’ll see.”