Illini basketball bounces back



By Jason Grodsky

Illinois turned to its senior leaders to guide the team out of the recent darkness that surrounded the program.

In the midst of the team’s longest losing streak since 1999, senior forwards Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt were determined to get the Illini back in the win column.

The two seniors scored the first nine points of the game for the Illini and combined for 38 points and 17 rebounds in Illinois 75-57 win over Michigan. Randle led the team with a double-double, scoring a career-high 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, while Pruitt flexed his strength inside, tying Randle with a game-high 19 points.


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Illini end five-game skid

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“It’s a confidence booster for us,” Randle said. “The Indiana game gave everybody motivation and we gained a better understanding of what we needed to do, and Shaun, Chester (Frazier) and myself found out that we were lacking as leaders. There is still a lot of room to get better, but this puts us back on the right track and hopefully it can snowball into more wins.”

The Illini fought through a see-saw battle with the Wolverines after getting off to a quick 17-5 lead, in which they held Michigan to just two field goals in the first eight minutes.

Illinois broke the game open with a 13-0 run midway through the second half to take a 56-43 lead and never looked back.

Junior guards Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock also scored in double digits with 11 points each, while freshman Demetri McCamey added seven points and a team-high six assists.

“We did a good job of picking up our defensive focus to hold (Michigan) off,” Pruitt said.

“We left their shooter open a few times, but we picked it up and had a good team effort in scoring, rebounding and defense.”

The last time it took an Illinois basketball team more than two conference games to get a Big Ten victory was in 1999.

That team needed eight games to capture its first Big Ten win, which, ironically, also came against Michigan.

“This was huge for us and I was excited again to shake hands after the game with a ‘W,'” Pruitt said.

Illinois stressed the importance of playing well against Michigan prior to the game and competed with a sense of urgency, knowing it needs to put together a winning streak to build a postseason resume;.

Illinois’ defense held the Wolverines to 35.7 percent shooting and forced eight turnovers.

Michigan lived and died by the three, forcing 27 attempts from beyond the arc and making eight.

When Illinois had Michigan on the ropes early the Wolverines hit three-pointers on four consecutive possessions to climb back into the game.

Even with the streaky outside shooting, Michigan couldn’t overcome the inside play of Illinois’ seniors who helped outscore the Wolverines 38-18 inside the paint.

“You go as your seniors go,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “We limited our attempts from outside and it spread the defense to get the ball inside. We had great balance and we did it with defense and we did it with ball movements.”