- For the box score, click here
-To see photos from tonight's game at the Assembly Hall, click here.
CHAMPAIGN - With a nifty behind-the-back layup you will probably see on "SportsCenter," Demetri McCamey calmed an anxious crowd at the Assembly Hall late Tuesday.
McCamey's handiwork gave No. 20 Illinois a 58-50 lead and was a fitting exclamation point on a 78-64 win against Wofford College.
See, while the Illinois freshmen were sometimes brilliant in cakewalk victories against overmatched foes, it was the elder statesmen that carried the Illini against someone (almost) their own size. The torch hasn't been passed yet.
"Coach (Bruce Weber) has been telling us all year, 'The freshmen are good, and they're going to play, but when it comes down to it, the juniors and upperclassmen are going to have to get us through these situations," said junior Mike Tisdale.
Five juniors combined for 55 points as the Illini (4-0) escaped a Southern Conference club that wasn't scared. The Terriers (2-3) led by eight in the first half and tied the score at 50 before McCamey's stirring score.
The highlight-reel layup ("Coach Weber doesn't like those plays unless you make them," McCamey said) capped an Illinois run that turned a 50-50 tie into a 58-50 advantage with about 11 minutes remaining. The pivotal run was engineered mostly by juniors McCamey, Jeff Jordan, Bill Cole, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale.
And that, friends, is the 2007 recruiting class that arrived as freshmen. It's a group that was maligned at the time but since has become the team's foundation for this season and next.
"They've got to take their game to another level," Weber said. "They've got to be the guys that are leading the wagon and let the freshmen jump on for the ride."
McCamey had 21 points, the most he's scored since erupting for 21 and the game-winner at Northwestern last season. Mike Davis (16 points, 11 boards) had his third double-double in four games. Cole gave a helpful lift off the bench with four points and several hustle plays that will show up on the Matto chart.
"I feel great for Bill," said Tisdale, Cole's freshmen-year roommate. "He's gone through a lot of stuff that was hard for him, not playing and all that."
Weber roasted Tisdale in practice Friday, not-so-gently asking for more from the 7-footer. He responded with 12 points and five boards. Even so, smallish Wofford "punked" Illinois - Weber's words - and kept the game closer than the final score would indicate.
"We're going to have to be more physical if we're going to play with the big boys down the road," Weber said.
A show of late-game leadership arrived at a good time for the Illini, who depart today for two games in Las Vegas, the team's first time on the road together. The current juniors had the advantage of taking a Canada trip as rookies, but these freshmen will play their first games in a strange place since their AAU days. It doesn't figure to faze the likes of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, who played his prep school ball in Vegas and had 15 points Tuesday.
"We're going to treat it like a business trip," Tisdale said.
With a little fun on the side, if the games go well.
"If you win the tournament Saturday night, go have some fun," Weber said.