Davis makes up for lackluster centers

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Jeff LaBelle

With limited production from its centers in Sunday’s exhibition game against Lewis University, Illinois turned to forward Mike Davis for answers.

Davis, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Virginia, dominated both ends of the floor and led Illinois in scoring with 18 points. While centers Mike Tisdale and Richard Semrau were playing soft, Davis was a high-flyer, finishing with seven rebounds and five blocks.

“(Davis) earned our trust,” head coach Bruce Weber said in the postgame press conference. “It gives us a little different intimidation inside. We’ve talked about somebody being an inside force for our defense, being a backstop for our defense. He gets five blocks and Mike Tisdale gets a couple, that definitely helps change some things.”

Illinois started Calvin Brock at power forward to start the game, but Weber opted to insert Davis into the starting lineup in the second half. Davis, despite a slender frame, quickly became a consistent threat during the first two exhibition games, averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“I’m not looking to score,” Davis said. “I’m just looking to help the team out, rebound, but if I happen to score, I can hit open jump shots and stuff like that.

“Last year we lost a lot of close games, so it feels good to win one this year.”

Weber has complained publicly about Davis’ practice habits, noting his tendency to “float” and his lack of urgency. But he called the effort from Davis on Sunday, “the best since he’s been here.”

Weber added, “He has so much talent, so much ability, but at times he just runs up and down.”

Soft Bigs

Tisdale and Semrau had their moments Sunday, but overall the coach was unhappy with how they attacked the basket.

Both had opportunities to score under the rim and both and, on separate occasions, were shut down.

“Semrau played well in (his) first four minutes,” Weber said. “I started him second half to see what happens, and I don’t know what the heck happened, he just didn’t play as well.

“Tisdale had some opportunities and didn’t finish,” Weber added. “We’ve got to get some points in the paint, find ways to get easy baskets so we (can) score when guys aren’t making perimeter shots.”

Tisdale finished with seven points and three rebounds in 17 minutes, while Semrau had four points and six boards in 12.

Weber said he wonders how Semrau will respond to a so-so game.

“Richard didn’t play awful,” Weber said. “(But) with a little bit of a setback, now how does he come back? Because he’s felt pretty good about himself to this point.”

Stand united

Guard Demetri McCamey, who finished with 16 points in the game and sealed the victory with two three-pointers in the game’s closing minute, said a change in team philosophy could lead to major improvements on the court this year.

“It really doesn’t matter who scores on our team as long as we get a ‘W,'” he said.

“Too many people wanted to score last year and cared about points. Mike (Davis) can have 25 and I can have two or zero, it really doesn’t matter.”