Men’s basketball loses final dress rehearsal

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

The contest at Eastern Illinois’ Lantz Arena may have just been an exhibition game, but to Eastern Illinois, it meant a little more.

“I said, ‘Fellas, you better come out and play them because they ain’t coming back next week,’” said Eastern Illinois head coach Jay Spoonhour. “We’ll play a lot of times when not all the bleachers are pulled out.”

Eastern Illinois won 80-67 in front of a home sellout crowd in both teams’ final dress rehearsal before the regular season.

“It was different; it felt like a high school game a little bit,” said sophomore Kipper Nichols.

At one point, there was a brief scuffle between a group of players after a loose ball foul late in the first half, and Eastern Illinois senior Muusa Dama was given a technical foul for choice words after a hard foul by freshman Mark Smith at the rim.

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Illinois jumped out to an early 11-point lead with 7:44 left in the first half, after a 6-0 run in front of a sellout crowd of predominately Illinois fans at Lantz Arena. However, Eastern Illinois came to play in the second half and eventually built a 15-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game.

“The biggest thing I’m probably most upset with – I take a lot of pride in our team playing hard – we got totally, totally outplayed and outhustled,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “We never got on the floor for a loose ball; we played pretty.”

Both teams were sloppy with the ball in a fast-paced game throughout. The Panthers had 20 total turnovers, and the Illini were not far behind with 19 of their own.

Underwood said his team had trouble running sets because there was too much individual play from the Illini on the offensive end.

“We couldn’t run anything, not by choice, we just took it upon ourselves to go do it by ourselves, and that’s an immature basketball team right now,” Underwood said. “That doesn’t get wins in college.”

Dama ignited the Panthers offense with an explosive two-handed slam just before the half, following an airball on the previous possession from Illini freshman Smith.

The Panthers eventually cut the lead to four, trailing 42-38 at halftime. Eastern Illinois outscored Illinois 42-25 in the second half.

Nichols led all scorers with 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Smith finished with 15 points in 27 minutes on the floor, which was the most time on the floor for any of the freshmen.

Da’Monte Williams spent 26 minutes in the game, followed by 13 minutes from Trent Fraizer. Greg Eboigbodin started the second half, but was soon replaced by junior Michael Finke.

Leron Black scored 12 points and recorded four rebounds in 27 minutes.

Illinois shot 5-20 from the three-point line, and finished at 40 percent overall from the field.

“I think people make way too much (of a big deal) about an exhibition game,” Underwood said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of people at the high-major level that get real concerned about what happened during an exhibition game.”

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