Weber uses lineup changes to motivate Illini

Illinois fans were on their feet at the Assembly Hall on Saturday as junior guard Demetri McCamey hit a buzzer-beating floater to give the Illini a 72-70 victory over Indiana.

But it was a play that happened on the bench, not the court, that head coach Bruce Weber called “the best move of the day.”

The Illini and Hoosiers were locked at 36 going into the half, and the Illinois coaching staff wasn’t planning to play junior forward Mike Davis the rest of the way. But it was a fellow forward who suggested a change of plans.

With freshman Tyler Griffey earning the start at forward in place of Davis against Penn State and Indiana, Davis and senior forward Dominique Keller have been rivals for minutes off the bench. But Keller made Davis’ case to Weber.

“(Keller) said, ‘Hey Coach, Mike Davis is ready, we need him.’ That’s pretty good for Dominique to do that because he always wants to play,” Weber said. “And so we gave (Davis) a shot.

“He made a blocked shot no one else could make on our team, he made the basket, he made a couple nice passes to (Tisdale), so at least he didn’t pout and he made some plays,” Weber added. “Now we got to see if he can come every day and give us the intensity we need.”

Davis lost his spot in the starting lineup following a three-game Illini losing streak that saw Davis post just two rebounds and fail to score at Northwestern on Jan. 23.

After holding McCamey accountable by pulling him from the starting rotation earlier in the season, Weber decided to stick to a plan that worked for McCamey and give Griffey his second career start on Saturday.

“I went back and forth — should I start Mike (Davis), should I not?” Weber said. “We held Demetri accountable. Obviously it’s done something. I made one good coaching move all year. And now we have to hold (Davis) accountable.

“And we’re good with Tyler in there, he’s done well and he deserves it. He works at it,” Weber added. “I’ve said all along, I think he’s going to be a pretty good player for us.”

Griffey tallied nine points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes on Saturday. The freshman’s performance hasn’t been lost on his teammates, either. Junior center Mike Tisdale appreciates the energy Griffey brings, whether it’s in the starting lineup or off the bench.

“He’s been playing pretty well, I can’t complain. Four-for-seven from the field and nine points, four rebounds, that’s not too bad for 20 minutes,” Tisdale said. “I got to give him a lot of credit, he plays hard and he wants the team to win.”

But Griffey isn’t the only Illini who’s been rotated into the starting lineup this season. Junior Bill Cole started against Iowa on Jan. 5 and hasn’t relinquished the role since. The guard had eight points and grabbed four rebounds against Indiana.

The scoring is something new for Cole.

“I wanted to be a leader, and I wanted to play hard, kind of be an example for these other guys,” Cole said. “At first, that’s all I was doing, and I kind of wanted to get more involved in the offense. And these past two games, I’ve really had a lot of confidence in my shot, and Demetri’s doing a great job finding me, and I’m just knocking them in.”

All nine Fighting Illini who saw the court Saturday posted 11 minutes or more. That versatility is what Weber expected to start the season.

But Weber still wants to make a few adjustments — such as resting McCamey a couple of more minutes during the game to keep him fresh for the end of the contest. Other changes have to come from within the squad, though.

“You have to play as a team, you got to move the basketball, you got to get it to the guys that can shoot the ball and have a consistent percentage,” Weber said. “Hopefully that’ll come before the end of the season. If we do get that, I think we have the chance to be a pretty good team.”