Illini basketball takes third in Maui Invite



By Jason Grodsky

MAUI, Hawaii – In its third game in less than 72 hours and fourth in six days, the Illinois basketball team beat Oklahoma State 65-49 to take third place in the 2007 EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Playing against Oklahoma State for the first time since 1954, the Illini stifled the Cowboys offense in a very physical game full of turnovers and loose ball scrambles.

Illinois’ defense was the determining factor in team’s fourth win of the season, forcing the Cowboys to shoot a season low 30.6 percent from the field and commit 15 turnovers. The Illini also had eight steals to hold the Cowboys to a season low 49 points.

“We had a sour taste in our mouth after our loss to Duke,” junior guard Trent Meacham said. “We were glad we could play again right away to get that taste out and come away with a win.”

Senior forward Brian Randle, the team’s leading scorer in the first two games of the tournament, went out with a left leg contusion seven minutes into the first half and did not return.

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    Randle pulled up lame after fighting for a rebound on the defensive end and was unable to run down the court, limping heavily on his left leg. The fifth-year senior was examined at the end of the Illini’s bench and eventually was taken to the team’s locker room.

    Randle’s career has been plagued by injuries that have forced him to play at less than 100 percent for most of his career, including a broken hand that forced him to redshirt his sophomore season during Illinois’ run to the Final Four.

    “It’s like he hit his funny bone in his leg,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said. “He had a numbness and tingly feeling from his knee down through his calf, but I think he’ll be fine.”

    Without their best player and senior leader, the Illini turned to junior guards Meacham and Calvin Brock.

    Meacham and Brock both shot 5-of-7 from the field and Meacham made his only two three point attempts to led the Illini in scoring with 17 points. Brock finished the game with 12 points and a team high eight rebounds.

    Brock finished the game with 12 points and a team high eight rebounds. The Chicago native finished the tournament averaging over nine points, four rebounds and close to two steals per game, earning him a spot on the 2007 Maui Invitational All-Tournament team.

    Brock joins former Illini Marcus Griffin and Frank Williams as the only Illini to earn the honor. Williams and Griffin were selected for the All-Tournament team in 2000 when the Illini finished second in the tournament.

    “We stepped up and made a lot of plays when it made a difference,” Brock said. “Coach said this would be most important game for us on the trip because it was the last and we were coming off a loss, and we came out and took care of business.”

    Senior forward Shaun Pruitt also added nine points for the Illini, all coming in the second half after being forced to sit most of the first period with foul trouble.

    Illinois wore down Oklahoma State inside, out rebounding the Cowboys 39-26 with eight offensive boards, resulting in a 10-6 advantage in second chance points.

    “You could tell this was the third game because both teams were exhausted and it showed,” Weber said. “The funny thing about our rebounding is that it came from two of the smaller guys on the team. Both Chester (Frazier) and Calvin finished with the team highs.”

    Illinois completed its four-game stint in the Hawaiian Islands with a 3-1 record. The Illini will travel home on Thursday night and have a week off before going back on the road to play Maryland in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

    “I’m exhausted, but overall this was a good trip for us,” Frazier said. “It was a learning experience for everyone and we’ve built a lot of confidence.”