Illinois 79- North Carolina 67: Hoop Musings for Two Mornings After, Gm. 8


Sorry loyal Writing Illini readers.

I didn’t have time to get my UNC-UI game observations up on the site yesterday morning.

With that said, here are my thoughts on what turned out to be an impressive victory for the orange and blue.

● It was great to see Mike Davis break out with some scoring in the second half after struggling to find his stroke in not only the first half against UNC but for most of this young season. Early on against the Tar Heels, Illinois did a good job of getting Davis some looks on the block, but the Illini senior couldn’t get the ball to fall. However, Davis really picked it up after a first-half dunk set up on a gorgeous feed from Demetri McCamey on the break. From that point on, Davis was the best player in the game in my opinion. Even after apparently having a sulking session during Monday’s practice, Davis bounced back on Tuesday with his best game in a long time. Even though Davis hasn’t had the statistical impact that was expected this season, he has improved in terms of his demeanor. The key will be for the senior to keep up his attitude improvement for the rest of the season, and do a better job on the boards.

● Speaking of the seniors, this game may have been the signature win thus far in their careers. While UNC is down at this point of the season, the Illini have had few games in the past 3 seasons where Davis, McCamey and Mike Tisdale were all clicking. Tuesday night was one of those rare examples, and the result was incredible. After McCamey and  D.J. Richardson paced the Illini with their outside shooting in the first half, Davis and Tisdale absolutely took over in the second half. Just as Davis had been struggling from the field, Tisdale had recently been missing some chippies on the interior. On Tuesday night, Tisdale had his half-hook going all night long. And his lob pass to Davis for a dunk early in the second half was a thing of beauty. Illinois has been spectacular on set plays for the lob dunk all season long.

● Bruce Weber and the coaching staff deserve much credit out of halftime Tuesday night. Illinois led 37-30 at the break thanks to the three-point shooting of Richardson and McCamey but got dominated on the interior by UNC in the first 20 minutes. Weber and the Illini came out early in the second half with the goal of getting the ball on the inside, and Illinois did a great job of taking control of this game thanks to the inspired play of Davis, Tisdale and Jereme Richmond. All in all, Illinois has been  much better, especially early in games, this season of getting Tisdale a low-post touch. While Illinois is still a team that lives and dies by the three, the Illini have had much better balance with the inside-outside game this season.

● As a team, Illinois didn’t get on the floor last season compared to what it did against North Carolina. It was great to see Illinois diving all over the place for loose balls. Illinois wanted that win on Tuesday night and justly got it. Talk about a contrast from last year, when Illinois had no clue what it wanted to do on the court.

● While Bill Cole got the start after coming off the bench against Western Michigan, the second half showed what Illinois’ starting lineup needs to be. With Richmond in for Cole, the Illini quickly built on a seven-point lead, extending the game to double digits. Richmond was a big reason why, with a nasty pump jam on the baseline that was reminiscent of Kenny Battle during the Flyin’ Illini years.

● Illinois was a bit choppy in the first 10 minutes on Tuesday night before starting to roll. It’s clear that this game turned when Tyler Zeller picked up this third foul with about 9 minutes to go in the first half. Zeller had eight points early on but would score just two the rest of the way. Illinois also had a six-point possession during which McCamey hit a three, an Illini player was fouled off the ball, and Richardson then buried a corner three.

● Speaking of Richardson, he may be the best momentum three-point shooter that Illinois has had since Dee Brown or Luther Head. D.J. gives the Illini a big three just when they always need it.

● As for McCamey, his game has been picked apart during the last three seasons. With that said, one area where McCamey does not get enough credit is his ability to hit difficult shots. While Illinois has a plethora of great guards in the last decade or so (Cory Bradford, Frank Williams, Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, etc.), McCamey is just behind Frankie Williams when it comes to making high-degree-of-difficulty shots. McCamey hit several tough shots in the first half and a nasty pop back J with a guy in his face during the second half on Tuesday night.

● Despite the interior dominance on the second half, Illinois still needs to get tougher down low, especially on the defensive end. For three straight halves (dating back to the performance of Western Michigan’s Matt Stainbrook on Saturday), the Illini got dominated on the interior before taking over in the second half against North Carolina.

● The North Carolina win was impressive but should be taken with a grain of salt as the Tar Heels were flat-out awful in terms of their basketball IQ on Tuesday. While UNC has some serious issues, Illinois still deserves much credit for the smack down. With that said, a victory in Seattle against Gonzaga would be much more impressive, especially when considering the quick turnaround. Illinois has what it takes to beat Gonzaga, which isn’t as good as last season, and only needs to look at last season’s loss to the Bulldogs for some extra motivation.


Here are some quick player observations.

Demetri McCamey

17 points (6-12 shooting, 3-4 from three, 2-2 from the line), 3 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 turnovers, 2 steals and 2 fouls in 35 minutes

● With the exception of an early defensive lapse when he weakly went under a screen that led to a Tyler Zeller dunk (thus drawing the ire from Bruce Weber on the sidelines) and a couple of sloppy turnovers with the game already decided late, McCamey ran the show with great efficiency and execution on Tuesday night. With the exception of a few mental lapses late in the Texas loss, McCamey has been really consistent and focused as a senior.

D.J. Richardson

11 points (4-7 from the field, 3-3 from three), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals, 1 block and 2 fouls in 31 minutes

● Mr. Momentum hit some clutch threes in the first half, including one at the horn to put Illinois up seven, and really got the Illini out of its early rut with his active hands, which propelled the fast break game.

Bill Cole

3 points (1-2 from the field, 1-2 from three), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover and 2 fouls in 12 minutes

● Cole got the start but sparked coming off the bench in the second half, hitting a big three from the top of the key (which I believe was only one of two Illinois threes in the second half) and getting on the floor for a couple of tie-ups that went to the Illini.

Mike Davis

20 points (8-14 from the field, 4-5 from the line), 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals and 0 turnovers in 38 minutes

● After getting lost in the offense thus far in the year, Davis burst out against Carolina, looking like the best player on the floor in the second half. It was great to see Davis get a good amount of shots, and hit at an efficient rate, including at the foul line, where he struggles. All in all, Davis had his best all-around performance in a very long time.

Mike Tisdale

14 points (6-10 from the field, 1-1 from three, 1-1 from the foul line), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 5 fouls in 26 minutes.

● Next to Davis, Tisdale was the difference in the second half, showing great emotion on a nice stick-back hook plus the foul on an Illinois miss, hitting a three, and feeding Davis for a lob dunk. More importantly, Tisdale started to convert on the interior, where he’s been struggling a bit with his half hook, and stayed out of foul trouble until late, when he picked up a few ticky-tack fouls before fouling out. All in all, Tisdale had his best all-around game of the season and has been playing much tougher in 2010-2011 than he did in 2009-2010.

Jereme Richmond

12 points (6-12 from the field), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers and 3 fouls in 26 minutes

● Richmond was much better than the more heralded Harrison Barnes on Tuesday night, doing a good job early in the first half of scoring on the interior. Richmond is clearly already the toughest player on the Illini, and it’s not even close. This kid is a gamer, and I fall more in love with his game with every game that I watch him. Not only was his second half dunk flat-out nasty but a wonderful decision. Richmond passed on an open three, drove with an aggression that other Illini players don’t have when going to the tin, went through two UNC defenders with a clever cradle and pump move, and then slammed it home with authority. Coach Weber, please start this kid now!

Brandon Paul

0 points (0-3 from the field, 0-2 from three), 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 1 foul in 18 minutes.

● Paul didn’t even score and Illinois still won by 12. That’s incredible, when considering that Paul has been the team’s second best player behind McCamey in the first eight games. Paul couldn’t get going on Tuesday and had a couple of rushed turnovers. With that said, he played within himself for the most part, something that was not the case during his bad games as a freshman. Paul has come a long way. When he plays well, the Illini are really tough to beat. And I like Weber’s decision to put Paul back on the bench. Illinois needs his ball handling and spark as a sixth man.

Meyers Leonard

2 points (1-3 from the field, 0-1 from the free throw line), 1 rebound, 1 turnover, 1 steal an d2 fouls in 12 minutes.

● Leonard played a bit too fast for his own good. With that said, he calmed down a bit in the second half, as evidenced by a hustle rebound on the offensive glass, a near tap out on an ensuing possession, and a nasty dunk late in the game. Leonard is a work in progress, but his talent is tantalizing. Jimmy Dykes hit it on the head when noting that Leonard plays as if someone stole his girlfriend. Once this kid gets better at controlling his emotions and slowing down, he will be a force.

Tyler Griffey

1 steal in 2 minutes

● I guess I’ll live with Griffey only playing two minutes on a night when Davis and Tisdale shined. With that said, Griffey needs more time than he’s getting right now. Essentially, Illinois is down to an eight-man rotation, which isn’t good enough with this team’s depth. Griffey needs 10 minutes a game, and Weber needs to find some time for this kid, who brings a cerebral dimension to the floor.

Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand, Jean Selus and Kevin Berardini

● All four did not play on Tuesday, which was not that surprising, maybe with the exception of Head, who could have gotten a couple of minutes.


Until the Gonzaga game on Saturday.