Illini remain unbeaten after taming Tigers



By Jeremy Werner

Though lacking of University students due to a week-long Thanksgiving vacation, the Assembly Hall crowd didn’t lack volume on Sunday night.

The 13,865 paying customers were boisterous as they were treated to thunderous dunks and hot shooting in the Illinois men’s basketball team’s 78-64 victory over Jackson State on Sunday.

Mike Davis, who continued his sizzling start to the season Sunday by tying a career-high with 20 points, said Illinois’ 4-0 start may be winning back some fans following last year’s disappointing 16-19 finish.

“I think every game we win the fans build more confidence in us,” Davis said. “They trust us a little bit. It was a great crowd actually. I think it was more than the first two games that we played here. The crowd was great here today; I loved it.”

Davis scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half and made nine of 10 field goals. The sophomore forward also led the Illini with six rebounds and added five assists. Junior college transfer Dominique Keller scored 16 points – 12 in the second half – making all of his eight field goal attempts. As a team, the Illini shot 62 percent from the field and made 10 of 13 free throw attempts.

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    Illinois went on a 22-4 run in the second half to take its biggest lead of the game at 70-44 with 7:50 left to play. Jackson State (0-3) went on a 20-4 run to finish the game as the Illini sat most of its starters.

    The Illini shot 69.2 percent from the field in the first half but were unable to pull away from the Tigers until they rattled off a 10-0 run in the final three minutes of the first half, highlighted by a Calvin Brock 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, to take a 44-30 lead at halftime.

    Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was encouraged by his team’s ball movement on offense. The Illini collected 25 assists on 31 field goals, including 17 assists on its first 18 field goals. The Illini have recorded assists on 74.5 percent of its field goals this season (79 assists on 106 field goals), a much-improved number from last season’s 59.6 percent rate.

    “Well part of it, we didn’t make shots (last season). You can’t all get assists if you don’t make shots,” Weber said. “Since the beginning, we’re a better shooting team. I think we have more people that can pass. Demetri (McCamey), Chester (Frazier) and Trent (Meacham) can all pass the ball. They’ve all played point guard, so that helps.”

    Jackson State outrebounded the Illini 30-27. The Tigers scored 13 points off of 15 offensive rebounds. Senior center Jeremy Caldwell led the Tigers with 17 points, while senior guard Darrion Griffin scored 14.

    The matchup with the Tigers was the second of four games the Illini play as part of the South Padre Island Invitational. Illinois will travel to South Padre Island, Texas, to play Kent State on Friday, and will play either Texas A&M; or Tulsa on Saturday.

    Jackson State head coach Tevester Anderson, whose team fell to Texas A&M; 96-78 on Friday, said he likes the Illini to win its second South Padre Island Invitational. The Tigers coach also said he will place Illinois in the top 25 on his Coaches’ Poll ballot.

    “I have one vote, and they’re going to get mine,” Anderson said. “I think they deserve it. (Weber) has fine team here. They execute their offense real well, and they play hard and they play great defense.”

    But Weber said the Illini have to continue to improve to earn such respect, especially with defending Mid-American Conference champion Kent State next on the schedule.

    “I think we’re way better than we were two weeks ago when we started with Eastern Washington,” Weber said. “But at the same time, there’s a long way to go. We’ll find out a lot more about us next week on a neutral court against some pretty good competition.”