Despite wins, foul trouble hinders men’s basketball

The last two wins for head coach Bruce Weber’s basketball squad could have come easier than they did. However, the Illini got into foul trouble early on against both Boise State and Clemson, making it tougher on themselves to pull out victories down the stretch.

In both games, it began at the top. Junior guard Demetri McCamey, the team’s vocal leader, was sent to the bench when he picked up three fouls in about the first 10 minutes against Clemson and two in about the first 12 minutes against Boise State. Illinois looked lost without its primary ball-handler on the floor, and junior guard Jeff Jordan was left to assume most of McCamey’s duties.

“I’m not used to sitting on the bench or anything like that,” McCamey said of the Clemson game. “I was just clapping, cheerleading and doing everything I can from the bench. When I got in there, I just made sure I played smart. I just tried to control the game to make sure we didn’t have as many turnovers as in the first half.”

McCamey re-entered the contest in the middle of the second half to mentally help spark Illinois’ 23-point comeback against the Tigers on Wednesday. He did some of the same against the Broncos.

“I think he was the key to them in the Clemson game — when he came out versus when he came back in,” Boise State head coach Greg Graham said.

McCamey and junior Mike Tisdale were each saddled with foul trouble early against Boise State on Saturday, and as a result they played nine and seven minutes in the first half, respectively.

Junior forward Bill Cole stepped in for 19 minutes to fill Tisdale’s shoes, but he ended up fouling out and finishing without any buckets. Cole and Jordan combined to go 0-for-3 against the Broncos, and the Illini missed the aggressiveness at the basket from McCamey and Tisdale. Neither Cole nor Jordan appeared to want to shoot. The lack of leadership and scrappy play on the court allowed the Broncos to stay within firing range and even take the lead a few times.

Despite the close game, Weber said Cole’s “hustle plays” are exactly what he wants.

“Of all the guys on our team, he has accepted what he is,” Weber said. “He’s playing his role, playing his heart out … He does the little things. I just hope we can get him involved in scoring a little bit and make some shots like he did last year down the stretch.”

McCamey and Tisdale eventually saw more minutes in the second half and combined to score 14 of the Illini’s final 16 points. But for the Illini to succeed come Big Ten season, the two may want to fulfill the specific roles Weber outlined for them at the beginning of the season.

“If everyone has Bill Cole’s attitude and acceptance of what he is, if we can get to that point, we’re going to be a good team,” Weber said.