Short-handed Illini hope to be successful against Eagles

By Lucas Deal

The Illinois basketball team will continue its busiest and most costly opening weeks in recent memory tonight at 7 p.m., when they host Georgia Southern at the Assembly Hall.

The Illini have already won two games this week, but the team still has three more games before their first consecutive off days next Wednesday and Thursday. Illinois head coach Bruce Weber is eager to get his team through this weekend and to those off days so they can get crucial rest.

“You never know how kids will respond to specific situations,” he said. “We had guys in a difficult situation (on Wednesday), and they grew up. They have to keep doing that.”

The Illini are currently playing with only nine scholarship players due to injuries to Jamar Smith and Brian Randle and the suspension of Rich McBride. McBride will be back in uniform for the Illini Nov. 21 against Savannah State, while Randle could play as early as tonight – though it is doubtful.

Smith, who injured his ankle in Monday’s season opener against Austin Peay, isn’t expected back for at least four weeks. Randle flew to Philadelphia on Thursday to have his groin injury looked at by a specialist, who decided surgery was necessary to repair a damaged muscle in his groin area. Randle is expected to miss four to six weeks.

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    “We’re trying to reassure him one way or another by having him checked out,” Weber said. “Were going to get some news. I hope its good news, but we’ll see.”

    As for tonight’s game, Weber said he thinks Georgia Southern is better than both of Illinois’ first two opponents.

    “(Georgia Southern) has some experience and some quickness,” he said. “They scored 116 points against UC-Davis because Davis forced them to play fast. Duke played them more like we’ll play them, with tough, hard-nosed defense.”

    Georgia Southern is led by junior point guard Dwayne Foreman and senior Donte Gennie. Against UC-Davis, Gennie had a team-high 26 points, and Foreman had 15 points and 13 assists.

    “They have very balanced scoring and good guard play,” Weber said. “Foreman is very, very good. He’s quick, and he can create. Their inside guys are solid, too, but they’re more guard play than anything.”

    That means the Illini will once again be forced to rely on Chester Frazier, Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham to play big minutes. It’s not Weber’s ideal lineup, but he said he’s getting more comfortable with it every day.

    “Trent has been a blessing to us, and Calvin’s getting better,” he said. “Trent played solid minutes at Dayton, which has helped.

    “As for Calvin, with him it’s always been his maturity level. All kids have to grow up (some time), and his growing has been a little slower than I would have hoped. Hopefully this playing time will push him over the hump.”