Legion debuts as Illinois sinks the Titans, 82-51

By Anthony Zilis

Sophomore Alex Legion’s season opener on Saturday against Detroit was one of the most hyped debuts in recent memory for the Illini men’s basketball team.

But if fans were hoping for a big first night from the Kentucky transfer, they went home disappointed. Legion scored just six points in 18 minutes, to go with three turnovers, as the Illini (9-1) trounced the Titans, 82-51.

“It might take him a little time but he’s going to be a big help for us,” said Trent Meacham, who sat out a season earlier in his career after transferring to Illinois.

Illini fans were so enthusiastic about Legion’s entrance that there was a small cheer from the Assembly Hall crowd when he fouled Detroit’s Woody Payne just seconds after entering the game.

But Legion’s vaunted scoring prowess was hardly needed, as his team shot 64 percent from the field and 11-18 from beyond the three-point line in the victory.

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The Illini’s first game in ten days wasn’t as lopsided as the score would indicate. After a strong start, Detroit tightened the score to 22-21 with 8:25 remaining in the first half.

“I was a little disappointed in the first half,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said. “You always talk about exam games, the long layoff, we were … not quite ready to play.”

Weber was particularly disappointed in sophomores Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey, who have been key to the Illini’s success so far this season. Both watched the beginning of the second half from the bench and scored only 11 points combined.

The Illini defense eventually prevailed, stretching the lead to 49-28 within the first eight minutes of the second half.

“I’m sure Coach Weber got after his group at halftime,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. “They responded the right way, with what seemed like a wave of players playing with great intensity and very good ball movement, which made for a long second half for us.

At the forefront of the wave were Meacham and Calvin Brock, who scored a combined eighteen points in the second half.

Meacham led the team with fifteen points along sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who continued his up-and-down season while scoring a majority of his points with outside jumpers.

But perhaps the biggest story for Illinois in the victory was the noticeable difference from similar contests last season, when dissent and team disconnect contributed to loss after loss.

“I think we have a lot better chemistry this year, nobody’s really arguing, fighting the coach with the system,” Brock said. “Everybody’s playing hard, everybody knows their role and is staying within themselves.”