Illini loss dooms NCAA Tournament hopes

Illinois played some of its best basketball of the season during the Big Ten Tournament. But it still wasn’t enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s game was billed as a contest of high school teammates turned rivals, as Evan Turner’s Buckeyes and Demetri McCamey’s Illini took the court in the semifinal round of the conference tournament. But in hindsight, it will be remembered as the final straw that kept Illinois from making the NCAA Tournament, as Ohio State defeated Illinois, 88-81, in double overtime.

Despite the loss, head coach Bruce Weber appreciated the strides made by his squad this weekend.

“I wasn’t very proud to be their coach at the start of the week. I didn’t like how they played, I didn’t like how they competed,” Weber said. “And in a week, I think they grew up, they matured, they competed.

“That was a tremendous effort (Friday), maybe even a better effort (Saturday),” Weber added.

Turner finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, though he fouled out with one minute to play in the second overtime. But the damage was already done, as Turner put the game away with 12 points after regulation.

For his part, McCamey led the way for the Illini offense, tallying 22 points and five assists.

But McCamey said the longest Big Ten Tournament game ever played came down to more than just his face-off with Turner.

“It wasn’t a one-on-one battle. It was two teams duking it out toward the end,” McCamey said. “I believe it was one of the best games we played, and it was one of the best games they played down to the wire.”

Down by eight with just more than 13 minutes to play in the first half, the Illini went on a 14-point run and held on to take a six-point lead into the half.

But fueled by some trash talking from the Fighting Illini, Turner and the Buckeyes went on a run of their own in the second half, scoring 20 unanswered points.

“I knew what type of team we had,” Turner added. “I knew what we had was tougher than what they had.”

The Illini refused to roll over, though, coming all the way back to take a 66-64 lead near the end of regulation. But a layup by Turner with 11 seconds to play sent the game to overtime, where Illini junior center Mike Tisdale fouled out halfway through the first of the two overtimes.

Tisdale’s defensive responsibility then fell on Tyler Griffey, who ended the game with 13 points and five rebounds. But the freshman wasn’t satisfied with his performance on the afternoon.

“It’s a tough one to swallow, especially for me,” Griffey said. “I felt like I could have done a couple things better.”

Junior forward Mike Davis posted a double-double, tallying 13 points and 18 rebounds. And freshman guard D.J. Richardson got in on the scoring with 15 points.

“They just have so many weapons,” Weber said. “We defended pretty well and just as we got into the stretch, we just couldn’t stop them.”