Illini basketball defeats Missouri Southern State in 1st exhibition game

It was the third appearance in Assembly Hall this season for the Illinois men’s basketball team, but for the first time the competition didn’t consist of the Illini’s own teammates. The Orange and Blue defeated Missouri Southern State 95-67 on Friday, in the first of two exhibition games of the year.

Despite the decisive victory, the Lions pulled the score as close as 32-24 in the first half, as Illinois turned the ball over 15 times in the first 20 minutes.

“I think a little sloppy would be an understatement the first half,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “To (Missouri Southern State’s) credit, they were very quick, very aggressive, I thought very physical, did not back down.”

The Illini recovered and ended the half on a 17-4 run, led by junior guard Demetri McCamey, who scored 12 points in the first half and ended the game with 16 points.

But it wasn’t only McCamey’s scoring that made him valuable in the contest.

“Demetri definitely was the difference maker probably in the game, just because he took care of the ball,” Weber said.

McCamey isn’t overly concerned about the turnovers.

“The season just started, first game of the year, so you can’t really look at turnovers,” McCamey said. “The only thing you can do is look at the energy and the good things out of it, and the turnovers we correct. That comes with practice.”

Illinois made headway toward correcting the turnovers in the second half, allowing just four turnovers after the break. McCamey attributed the first-half turnovers to having butterflies, saying everyone was “excited to be out there,” and adding that the team needs to build on its improved second-half performance.

“Now we got to keep it going game-to-game and try to get four to seven turnovers a game, and that would be the max,” McCamey said.

The play of the four freshmen also improved in the second half. Weber said their struggles in the first half could be because of nerves and dealing with the quickness of Missouri Southern State.

In the end, they turned in a performance worthy of notice from the upperclassmen.

“They played pretty good for their first game,” senior forward Dominique Keller said. “I feel like they got a little confidence under their belt now, and they can move on to the next exhibition, hopefully they’ll all be ready for the next game.”

All four freshmen saw the court as part of Weber’s scripted plan to ensure everyone got nearly equal playing time.

“I had a little sheet, you know, who was going in what time,” Weber said. “Next week it will be a little more of earning it and playing well.”

Freshman guard Brandon Paul saw 17 minutes, tallying 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.

“Brandon Paul, I thought, went to the hoop pretty well. He has some natural instincts,” Weber said. “He’s got to learn a little bit about shot selection, it’s different than high school – you just can’t keep shooting shots.”

Guards D.J. Richardson (14 points, three steals) and Joseph Bertrand (six points) as well as forward Tyler Griffey (six points), also got “a good first taste” of game experience, Weber said.

The Orange and Blue have one more tuneup Sunday against Quincy before the regular season begins.