Attendance sparse at Illinois men’s basketball exhibition



By Jeremy Werner

The Illinois men’s basketball team has sold out Assembly Hall for a school record 60 consecutive regular season games. But judging by Sunday’s attendance at the Illini’s 82-61 exhibition win against Florida Southern, that streak may be in jeopardy.

Usually filled by a sea of 16,618 fans clad in orange, Assembly Hall was blotched with several large sections of gray seats. Official paid attendance was listed at 13,370, but Moccasins head coach Linc Darner, whose team played at Purdue on Friday, estimated the crowd to be between 6,500 and 7,000.

“I think there was a lot more students on Friday (at Purdue),” Darner said. “With it being Halloween, they were all dressed up … But I think they were both good atmospheres. But the student section at Purdue, I think there was a lot more of them.”

About 1,600 student season tickets were sold, down from 3,500 last season, according to the Illinois ticket office. A total of about 12,000 non-student season tickets have been sold. Single game C-section tickets for each of the Illini’s 19 home games went on sale Monday, selling at $11 for students and $22-35 for the public.

Senior guard Trent Meacham, who scored a game-high 17 points in the exhibition, said the lack of attendance may be due to fans’ unfamiliarity with the players and last year’s disappointing 16-19 season.

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“We’re the only ones to blame for that, and we look out there and we don’t have as many fans,” Meacham said. “We’re focused on the season, and I feel great about these guys on the team. I feel great about this season, and we have great fans. We know they’ll be supporting us, and hopefully we’ll get that a little more packed next time as we get into the season.”

‘Gentleman’s agreement’

Florida Southern guard Rob Eldridge committed his fifth foul just minutes into the second half and headed to the bench having fouled out. But Eldridge entered the game minutes later after the Illini and Moccasins coaching staffs came to a “gentleman’s agreement” to allow Eldridge back into the exhibition to keep the game as competitive as possible.

Eldridge scored eight points after checking back into the game and finished with 12 points total. Illinois guard Demetri McCamey and center Mike Tisdale also committed five fouls but did not return to the game.

“I’m glad they let (Eldridge) play because it doesn’t do any team any good to not have him out there,” Darner said. “We’re thin as it is. We have three key guys that are out with injuries right now, so now all of a sudden with Rob out with 15 minutes, it’s going to go up to 30, 40 or 50 (point lead), and that doesn’t do Illinois any good.”

Midwest trip memorable for Darner

Florida Southern’s Midwest swing to Purdue and Illinois was nostalgic for Darner. The Moccasins coach was recruited by Bruce Weber when he was an assistant at Purdue. Darner was also teammates with Purdue head coach Matt Painter during the early 1990s.

“To go back and play at Mackey (Arena) for me, it brings back a lot of memories,” Darner said of his alma mater. “Coming back over (to Assembly Hall) brings back not very many good ones, though. I don’t think we won here when I was a player.”

Although Florida Southern lost to the Illini following a 94-62 loss to Purdue, Darner said the trip was positive for his team.

“This was great for our program, for Florida Southern. It’s a great recruiting tool for me to use.

“We told the recruits all about us coming up here and playing,” Darner said. “Hopefully, with all the kids we have, we have a lot of Midwest kids, hopefully it’s something we can do down the road again.”