Legion getting more comfortable in offense

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AP

Illinois’ Alex Legion celebrates after hitting a three-point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009, in East Lansing, Mich. Legion led Illinois with a season high 15 points. Michigan State won 63-57. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

By Jeremy Werner

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Alex Legion received plenty of looks from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo as a high school standout from Detroit. On Saturday, the Illinois sophomore turned in his best collegiate performance to date against the Spartans’ coach, scoring 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting in a 63-57 loss at the Breslin Center.

“We recruited Alex Legion,” Izzo said. “He’s one of the more prolific scorers coming out of (Michigan). I think he’s a great player. I think Bruce has done a great job with him.”

Legion has seen his fair share of teams since transferring from Detroit Country Day High School to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. The 6-foot-5 guard committed to Michigan twice and decommitted from the Wolverines twice while in high school before signing with Kentucky. But after six games under Billy Gillispie, Legion transferred to Illinois.

“In that system and the way they play and with the other players they’ve got, I think it’s a perfect spot for Alex,” Izzo said. “I think he’ll grow as a player. He’s very talented.”

Since gaining eligibility on Dec. 20, Legion has averaged 6.8 points through eight games this season. With double-figure scoring performances in three of his past five games, the transfer feels he starting to find his niche in the Illinois rotation.

“I think more and more each game I’m starting to learn the offense and learn to pick and choose my shots,” Legion said. “I took a couple bad ones tonight. But I feel like the more I get to play and the more minutes I get, the more comfortable I’ll become.”

‘Izzone’ turns it up

When Michigan State stormed back to take the lead after trailing Illinois by as many as nine points, Izzo said the capacity crowd of 14,759 showed the most emotion he’s seen at the Breslin Center “probably in five or six years.”

The comeback came on the same day the Spartans honored former Big Ten Player of the Year and scoring leader of the 2000 National Championship team Morris Peterson before the game.

Illinois players were welcomed by the taunts and a few choice words from the Michigan State student section, “the Izzone,” as the Illini began its shoot around 90 minutes prior to tipoff.

“To me, it’s the loudest place in the Big Ten,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “I hope ours is comparable.”

Throwing in the towel

With 3:40 left in the second half and the Illini down 60-54, Weber subbed out Mike Davis after the Illinois sophomore’s failure to get back on defense led to two Michigan State foul shots.

As Davis strolled to the bench, he threw a towel at the scorer’s table, drawing the ire of his coach. Weber howled at Davis to pick up the towel and gave the sophomore an earful on the bench.

“Well he threw his towel. You don’t throw your towel,” Weber said. “He made the mistake. Live up to it. Don’t embarrass you and your program on national TV by coming to the bench and throwing your towel.

Davis was recently the subject of a profile in Sports Illustrated centered on the surprise player of the surprise team – Illinois – in the surprise conference – the Big Ten.

“He’s a young man that’s had some success,” Weber said. “He’s had some national attention. Now, you got to deal with the success and live up to it.”