Boilermakers dampen Illinois tourney hopes

By Lucas Deal

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – On Saturday afternoon, the Illinois basketball team traveled to Purdue’s Mackey Arena to take on the Boilermakers. It was an excellent chance for both teams to improve their NCAA Tournament resume and beat a quality Big Ten team.

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The Boilermakers made the most of their opportunity behind a huge game by senior David Teague, while the Illini fell behind early and never threatened en route to a convincing 64-47 Boilermaker win.

Purdue used a 21-0 run in the first half to race out to a huge lead and Teague hit five threes in the second half to keep the stumbling Illini at bay.

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    “I knew (the game) would be tough,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said. “I actually told my wife this morning we could get our butt kicked today.”

    Weber added, “They had a whole week (to prepare) and they just took it to us; they punked us.”

    Frankly, I can’t help but agree. The Boilermakers made the Illini look terrible in the game.

    Right from the start, Purdue looked a step quicker, a step more assure of themselves and their game plan. The Illini just looked lost.

    Shaun Pruitt appeared to regress from his recent successful outings with an average game inside. He scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but struggled mightily from the free-throw line (3 of 8) and missed several lay ups and put backs.

    Illini point guard Chester Frazier, who is normally very hard-nosed and aggressive, appeared timid when he was left open from the three-point line in the second half. At one point, Frazier was left so wide open with the ball that he was more than 10 feet from the nearest Purdue defender when he attempted his shot.

    He missed.

    Weber wasn’t surprised.

    “We told (Frazier) they might not guard him,” he said, “and he’s not a good enough shooter to fake three times then shoot.”

    Illinois’ performance was not much better on the defensive side of the court, where Teague was able to fire at will for most of the game without as much as a hand in face. Not only that, the one time the Illini did body up on him, he still managed to bank in a 30 footer as the shot clock hit zero.

    It was a shot that demoralized the Illini and all but sealed the deal for Purdue.

    “I was just trying to hit the rim so we wouldn’t get a violation,” said Teague, who led Purdue with a career-high 28 points. “When we made big shots that got their confidence down.”

    Weber agreed, stating that Teague’s three was the “dagger” the Illini were trying so desperately to avoid.

    “When (the team) came over the bench, you could just see it in their faces,” he said.

    The loss drops the Illini to 15-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten with only eight conference games to play. Weber said after the game he thinks the Illini will need at least nine conference wins to have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament.

    I don’t know if that’s going to be enough or not, but either way, a 6-2 finish would be quite an accomplishment for this team.

    If nothing else, it would at least be nice to see the Illini put up a fight down the stretch. I mean, if they’re not going to make the tournament then they could at least be a spoiler for somebody else.

    But I guess that’s something we won’t know for sure until season’s end. As for right now, I guess the best Illini fans can hope for is that this loss shook the team up; that it will make them hungry to rebound with a win.

    Win or not, Weber says the Illini will keep trying.

    “We can’t quit (now), who knows what can happen.”