Illini ride strong second half to down Wofford

Even with the students gone, Assembly Hall can get loud. It got louder and louder as the minutes ticked by during the men’s basketball team’s 78-64 victory over Wofford on Tuesday.

Illinois started out slow, and Wofford shot lights out, but strong second-half play helped the Illini edge out what players and head coach Bruce Weber agreed is the best team they have faced so far.

“I knew they were a good team, I didn’t think they were that good to be honest … I’ve told them all along, that ‘this team wasn’t that good, we should have our way,’ but this game they were good and we had a game,” Weber said.

The Illini trailed the Terriers for most of the first half and had to fight back from an eight-point deficit to take a 33-32 lead with 2:01 left after a 3-pointer from freshman DJ Richardson, who shot 5-for-6 from outside the arc for the game.

Wofford took back the lead less than 30 seconds later and held it until right before the buzzer.

But with 1.2 seconds left on the clock before the break, Illinois inbounded the ball to junior Demetri McCamey, who turned and fired off a 3-pointer that put Illinois up 42-39 at halftime. Wofford would never take another lead for the rest of the game.

In the second half, Illinois took over. And after shooting 50 percent from field goal range and cashing eight 3-pointers in the first half, Wofford (2-3) cooled down after the break, shooting just 27 percent.

“Their size and their athleticism, at some point, in games like that, can take over a little bit,” Wofford head coach Mike Young said.

McCamey, who led Illinois in scoring with 21 points, said his team picked up the pace in the second half, which got the announced crowd of 12,982 into the game.

“We picked up the intensity and started playing together and talking more, and that helped us out,” McCamey said. “We just used the crowd to our advantage and we got steals, we got putbacks and we set the tone.”

McCamey led a strong performance by the Illini’s junior class.

Three of the team’s four leading scorers were juniors, including Mike Davis, who posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Mike Tisdale put up 12 points while bringing down five boards.

Bill Cole shot 2 -or-2 for four points and left the game to a standing ovation after playing tight defense.

“We set goals for the season, (Cole’s) was to lead the team in Matto-per-minute,” Davis said, referring to the Illini’s hustle points chart. “He’s going to play 110 percent.”

Weber has previously said that despite the talent of this year’s freshmen, it is the juniors’ play that will be the difference for Illinois (4-0).

“I’ve said all along, it’s ‘rise up.’” Weber said of his juniors. “They’ve got to take their game to another level. They’ve got to be the guys that are leading the wagon, let the freshmen jump on for a ride and off and on have big games.”