Illini fall to Dayton in NIT quarterfinals

The Garden will have to wait.

The Illinois men’s basketball team’s season ended Wednesday with a 77-71 loss to Dayton in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.

Dayton’s athleticism and speed of play showed right out of the gate. After Illinois drew first blood to lead 3-0, the Flyers went on a 17-3 run in the following five minutes.

“Our style of play is defend, rebound and run … I don’t think they were prepared at first,” Flyers guard Marcus Johnson said.

Illinois (21-15) struggled in transition early, but was stifled by Dayton’s constricting defense when attempting to slow things down.

Dayton led by as many as 17 in the first half after shooting 50 percent from the field. The Flyers regularly rotated four players in and out at one time.

“At that pace that we played at today, to play 35 minutes, that’d be hard to do,” Dayton head coach Brian Gregory said.

No player on either team played more than 32 minutes, aside from Illinois’ Demetri McCamey, who played 40 minutes.

McCamey took 19 of Illinois’ 77 shot attempts, making six field goals and one free throw for a team-high 13 points. He also brought down a team-high eight rebounds, and dished out 10 assists, giving him the highest single-season assists average (7.1) in Illinois history.

But while McCamey’s numbers were good, his team did not win, and it was for that same reason that he said this season was not successful.

“You judge a point guard not off stats, (but) off number of wins and if your team wins,” McCamey said. “So for me it was unsuccessful, and I didn’t get my team to the NCAA Tournament, and we didn’t win ballgames down the stretch.

“The numbers was good and great, woo-ha, but wins, that’s what matters the most,” he added.

Weber also said he does not want the player with the second most assists in Illini history taking 19 shots in a game.

“I thought they disrupted us, they really disrupted Demetri, and we live and die off of him,” Weber said.

As has happened before, Weber said his team as a whole shot too many threes in a game where they were not going in the hoop. Illinois shot 6-for-26 from long range, and McCamey went 0-for-4.

Illinois’ overall offense was lacking in the first half, where the Illini shot 10-for-33 from the field.

But as they had done so many times during the season, the Illini came back in the second half.

While the Flyers (23-12) led by double-digits for most of the second half, they only led by as many as 15 once.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, the Illini made the desperation comeback that they have done so many times, and slashed the deficit to four with 20 seconds left.

“We put a little bit of fear into them, but we didn’t get those things to go,” Weber said.

The comeback fell short, a result Weber said proved all too familiar.

“Pretty much it was a history, or mirror of what happened all year,” he said. “Not always being ready, not dealing with physical play, and then trying to make a frantic comeback.”

With the loss, Illinois will not get to travel to New York City to compete in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. The Illini will return to the Garden next season for the 2010 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Nov. 18-19.

While a trip to the Garden this season was the best Illinois could hope for this year in lieu of missing the NCAA Tournament, McCamey said Wednesday’s loss will give the Illini motivation to meet their goals for next season.

“I think (the loss) should help,” McCamey said. “Everybody being more hungry and just having that feeling and just getting better, so we won’t have to be in the NIT next year, and be in the NCAA Tournament.”

Weber said he just hopes that motivation carries on to next season.

“It’s got to last through the spring, through the summer, through the fall, when you don’t want to come to the gym,” he said.