Illini hit road against Boilers

By Jason Grodsky

Bruce Weber will return to the site of his first Big Ten coaching job to do battle with one of his successors on Saturday.

Fresh off the team’s first Big Ten victory of the season and first win in more than two-and-a-half weeks, Weber will take the Illini basketball team to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue and his former assistant at Southern Illinois, Matt Painter.

Painter coached under Weber from 1998 to 2003, and then took over the Salukis head coaching position when Weber left to coach the Illini at the beginning of the 2003-04 season. In two years as head coach of the Boilermakers, he has turned the program back around and last season led Purdue to its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2003.

This season Painter again has the Boilermakers (12-5, 3-1 Big Ten) on track to make the program’s first back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since the 1999 and 2000 tournaments.

“Matt’s done a great job at Purdue,” Weber said. “They play small, but they found a way to beat Ohio State and they gutted it out on the road against Iowa. It will be an interesting game to see how both teams respond.”

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    For Weber to have success against his former assistant, Illinois (9-9, 1-4) will have to deal with one of the Big Ten’s most balanced offenses.

    The Boilermakers feature four players averaging in double-digits in scoring, led by sophomore guard Keaton Grant who averages 11.4 points per game and is shooting just more than 47 percent from three-point distance.

    “Our biggest concern is their quickness and how hard they play,” Weber said. “They play small ball. It’s basically four guards and a big guy. We have to make them pay for not having big guys inside. We have to use our inside presence.”

    Last game the Illini dominated inside, outscoring Michigan 38-18 in the paint.

    Senior forwards Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt each scored 19 points and combined for 17 rebounds in the game and are excited to get back on the road to put together the team’s first winning streak in nearly a month.

    “A lot of us personally like road games maybe just as much as home games,” Pruitt said. “We have to play off our own energy. Purdue is a good team and we are going to have to play even harder than we did (Wednesday).”

    After giving the players a day off on Thursday to rest their legs and minds, Weber will come back with the same lineup he’s had for the past two games, keeping junior guard Chester Frazier on the bench in favor of freshman Demetri McCamey while Frazier recovers from his rib injury.

    Weber stressed the importance of the Illini’s next few road games, saying that the team needs to make up the ground it lost at home in the Big Ten. Unfortunately for the Illini the Boilermakers are 9-1 at home at Mackey Arena this season.

    “We lost some home games we didn’t expect to lose and now we have to find a way to get back those home losses,” Weber said. “It’s a difficult place to play but we got ourselves in this boat and now we have to survive this.”