Bank open for McCamey; Northwestern fans outnumbered

By Jeff LaBelle

The hands of Demetri McCamey sent thousands of purple-clad fans to their knees Thursday night in the Illini’s most dramatic come-from-behind win of the season, a 60-59 finish at Northwestern. The guard’s bank shot at the buzzer may have looked smooth as it dropped, but before that things weren’t so easy for Illinois.

Dominique Keller watched his team come out sloppy in the first twenty minutes and enter halftime down by six.

“I was disappointed. We could have came out with a lot more intensity and a little more energy,” Keller said. “But we persevered, we stayed with it, and we never gave up. Hey, look at us now.”

McCamey’s shot, two of his 21 points on the night, capped a comeback spurred by intense defensive pressure in the last five minutes of the game. Illinois trailed by as many as 14 with 6:22 left but it was McCamey’s bank shot that put Illinois over the top.

However, the play wasn’t supposed to end as it did.

“The actual play was for me to come off the ball screen and hit Mike Davis on the slip like we did with Trent and Mike Davis out in Purdue,” McCamey said. “That’s why I picked the ball up. (Davis) was open on the slip, but I had contact so I found Trent. Trent did a dribble and dished it back, and I was fortunate to bank the shot to go in.”

And, yes, McCamey claims he meant to bank it in.

“Yeah, yeah. I practiced that,” he said. “Me and Coach Weber practiced that shot out early in shoot around. Because I’ve been in a slump, we’re getting extra shots in and working on bank shots and stuff like that.”

Home on the Road?

Keller said the complex jumble of Orange and Purple in the stands during the game was more than a little perplexing. After nearly every play, a cotillion of fans would erupt into applause or cheers, something that threw him off. However, rough estimates pegged the crowd at about 60-40 in favor of the Illini.

“When we scored, it felt like a home game and when we were on defense it felt like a road game,” Keller said. “There was cheering after every play. If we didn’t get a stop, there was cheering and if we got a stop somebody was yelling. It was definitely one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of. This is just life in the Big Ten.”

Blast from the Past

A familiar face was on hand for the excitement at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Chris Hicks, a walk-on for Illinois who graduated following last year’s campaign, had a seat close enough to the court to feel like he was part of the action. So close, in fact, that he admitted wanting to run onto it afterward.

“I just got real emotional over there,” Hicks said. “I felt like I was sitting on the bench again and I almost, I got a little bit too rowdy.

“I was actually sitting behind Northwestern’s bench, right behind them because I have two best friends that play for them,” he added. “I was shouting at them, you should have heard me. I was all in their ears. That’s why I had to calm down, now that I think about it.”

Hicks said the experience of watching the drama unfold as a fan, not a player, is a new one for him.

“It’s a different world,” he said. “Like, I didn’t realize how much fun it is to come to an Illini game. Sitting on the bench is one thing, but actually sitting with the fans, slapping hands with people you don’t know, it’s amazing.”

Hicks said he’s currently working as an athletic trainer at a Bally’s Total Fitness in the Chicago area but has an interview scheduled with UIC’s medical school soon. At Bally’s, he said, he helps train people from all walks of life.

“I train anyone – old, young, and cute,” Hicks said. “You know how it goes.”

Krushed Valentines

After the game, on their way to the team bus, players were seen carrying small, red bags and envelopes containing what they claimed were Valentines cards given to them by members of Orange Krush. But they weren’t kissing and telling.

“This is private,” one player said. “I have a girlfriend. I can’t let her see this.”