Physical defense stops Illini



By Jason Grodsky

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber channeled former mentor and Purdue head coach Gene Keady on Saturday during the first half of Illinois’ 83-75 loss at the Assembly Hall.

With 2:18 remaining in the first half, junior guard Trent Meacham was called for a travel and Weber began pleading with the officials to watch Purdue’s hands on defense.

His plea drew his first technical foul of the season from referee Bo Boroski and prompted the Illini coach to remove his suit jacket a la Keady’s style.

Weber was in constant conversation with the officials throughout the first half, asking them to watch the Boilermakers’ hands on defense.

“They play very physical,” Weber said. “That’s just how they play. You have to give them credit. But as a coach, you want to fight for your guys and the fairness of the game.”

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Purdue head coach Matt Painter said he puts tennis balls in his players’ hands during practice to prevent hand-checking on defense.

Hand-checking or not, the teams combined for 48 fouls in the game. Illinois went to the free throw line 41 times, making 30 attempts to shoot 73.2 percent.

The Boilermakers weren’t too far behind the Illini, going to the charity stripe 35 times and making 28 attempts, helping them sweep the season series with the Illini for the first time since 1999.

“I thought we would win, come together and find a way to win,” Weber said. “But Purdue played very well, and that performance was as good as any team we played this year other than Duke. I think they have a chance to make a run at the (Big Ten) title.”

Coaches vs. Cancer

This weekend marked the annual “Coaches vs. Cancer: Suits and Sneakers” awareness weekend in college basketball organized by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society.

Both Illinois’ and Purdue’s coaching staffs participated by wearing sneakers Saturday at the Assembly Hall to help raise awareness among college basketball audiences about the fight against cancer. Purdue coach Matt Painter even took it a step further by wearing a dark pink tie.

Since the program began in 1993, more than 500 coaches have participated to raise close to $40 million.

By itself, Illinois has helped raise $50,000 to support the program’s efforts to raise awareness and find a cure for cancer.

“It’s a great awareness thing and a great togetherness thing for our coaches association,” Weber said before the game. “It’s a positive step for the fight against cancer.”

Guests of honor

Illinois welcomed a handful of special guests to Assembly Hall on Saturday, including his “Airness” and a new Illini to be.

Michael Jordan made his first appearance at Assembly Hall this season to watch his son Jeff and his teammates take on Purdue. The walk-on freshman played five minutes and missed his only shot attempt.

The Illini also welcomed Tyler Griffey, a 6-foot-9 junior forward from suburban St. Louis, who committed to Illinois on Wednesday.

Griffey joins guards Joseph Bertrand, D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul in Illinois’ class of 2009.

Former Illinois players Mannie Jackson and Govoner Vaughn were also in attendance as they were honored as the first two black letter winners in Illinois basketball history from 1957-60.

Jackson, the owner and chairman of the Harlem Globetrotters, donated $2 million to Illinois to create the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program in the College of Applied Health Sciences.

Prior to the game Jackson and Vaughn offered some advice on free throws to current Illinois players who have struggled from the free throw line this season.

“It’s free, go up and take advantage of it,” Vaughn said.

Outside of the basketball program, head football coach Ron Zook was honored on the court as the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year and was presented with a trophy for his achievement.