McCamey & Co. answer critics

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MINNEAPOLIS – Midway through the second half, Demetri McCamey shot through a passing lane and stole the ball.

Seconds later he was stopped. Not by a Minnesota defender, but by a leg cramp. He limped to the sideline and chugged a cup of water.

The senior returned 12 seconds later to put the finishing touches on what could prove to be one of the most important wins of the past four seasons.

"I just had to step up tonight and lead my team," McCamey said after Illinois scratched out a 71-62 win against Minnesota at Williams Arena.

"He played so hard he cramped," added Bruce Weber, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak on the road.

Leading into Thursday's game, the Illini had everything questioned – their effort, their talent, even their will to win. They weren't even safe during the game, as ESPN analyst Dan Dakich buried the Illini seniors with a scathing opinion at halftime.

"The national media, ESPN, is calling them out," Weber said. "The Big Ten Network is calling them out."

"That's just bulletin-board material," said senior Mike Davis.

Perhaps the ESPN criticism was in response to Weber's decision to bench the most experienced players on the roster. McCamey (106 career starts, 10th all time at Illinois) and Mike Tisdale (95 consecutive starts, the fourth-longest streak at Illinois) watched from the sideline in their warmup jackets as Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard replaced them at tipoff.

Well, they didn't exactly watch. McCamey rose to his feet to cheer a hustle play by D.J. Richardson. Tisdale threw his arm around rookie Leonard, his replacement, to offer veteran instruction. Weber had decided on the lineup change Wednesday but waited to inform the players of the shuffle until minutes before tipoff.

"I actually had no idea I was going to start," Leonard said. "I've been a little dehydrated, but I thought I had a pretty good week of practice."

"It doesn't matter," Tisdale said. "As long as we win, I can be on the bench or on the court. That's all that matters right now."

Weber said he was unsure if the starting lineup would change again when No. 14 Purdue visits the Assembly Hall on Sunday.

There was no one questioning the Illini after Thursday's game, just the Orange Krush serenading D.J. Richardson with, "Happy birthday to you!" as the players came back on the court to applaud their student support group.

The Krush had bussed to Minneapolis from C-U and sat down only at halftime from its seats in the upper balcony.

Illinois (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten) might be a team flirting with the bubble, but the effort on display showed it is hardly a team ready to mail it in.

"There are a couple games in the season that are a must-win, and this was a must-win," Davis, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. "We couldn't lose this game. We had to have this game."

Illinois earned its first road win of 2011 the hard way – before a near sellout against a desperate Minnesota (16-8, 5-7) team that has lost four straight for the first time under Tubby Smith.

Paul had 12 points, while Richardson had 11. McCamey had 17 points and added a season-high nine Matto points, the statistic that jumped out to his teammates. Illinois scored 40-plus Matto points after totaling no more than 27 in the previous seven games.

"I can't even explain how big this was. It's only one win, but it's so much more than that," said senior Bill Cole. "Just the way everyone played. No one pouted from the changes to the starting lineups."

What happened
Or maybe a better question: What didn't happen? Bruce Weber overhauled the lineup (benching Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale), assistant Jay Price was whistled for a bizarre technical foul while seated, and McCamey earned Weber's praise for diving to the floor. You know, the usual. Oh, and Illinois won a road game for the first time in 2011.

What it means
This season, if Minnesota and Illinois boast comparable postseason resumes, the Illini hold the head-to-head upper hand. Thank Mike Davis, for one. The senior has averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds over the past six games. Illinois broke a four-game road skid and lifted its spirits for trips to Michigan State, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 14 Purdue.

What the Illini said
"We talked a lot about (how) we were in a foxhole. I had to explain what a foxhole was to the guys." -Coach Bruce Weber

What the Gophers said
"I guess we just hit the wall and didn't do the job." -Coach Tubby Smith

What's next
There are single tickets still available for Sunday's home game against No. 14 Purdue (Noon, CBS). The Boilers have lost four straight road games. The UI scouting report will highlight JaJuan Johnson, who has scored in double figures in 32 straight games, and E'Twaun Moore, who bounced from a slump with 25 against Indiana on Tuesday.

Comments

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jturner wrote on February 11, 2011 at 12:02 am

Continue to have 40 minutes of effort like that from starters and bench and more wins will follow.

Nice win. Congratulations.

ptevonian wrote on February 11, 2011 at 1:02 am

What a refreshing change! Demetri running down guys with the ball, making steals, guys fighting for 50-50 balls, and guys making plays offensively and defensively when Minnesota cut it to 1 with a couple minutes to go. McCamey ended with 17 points and 4 boards, but if Leonard and Paul could hold on to the ball he would have had 6 or 7 and we'd be saying he looked like his old self.

But overall, this is what we needed: A game won on effort, instead of crazy shooting. A game in which we extended a small lead in crunch time. If we put in that kind of effort each game, the shooting will come and we'll dominate some teams. It's all about effort and hustle and intensity.

Now, if we could just get more than 7 points and 4 rebounds out of 38 minutes from our two centers... Ouch.

dancrowell5 wrote on February 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

Great game men, you take a lot of heat when you lose, so it's only fair to give all the players and coach Weber the credit when you play like you did against a good Minnesota team in their barn.

geriatricillini wrote on February 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

This is what I was hoping would happen...the seniors playing with " senior desperation" and they did. I was proud of Demetri and Tisdale for acting like adults when they learned they weren't starting. They were men about it. And let's hear it for our whipping boys on the bench...the coaching staff. Excellent job, gentlemen.

I know Minny is depleted at the guard spots, but ANY road win ANYWHERE in this league is a big deal this year. The only folks I gave a little "stuff" to on here was the older guys. It was just a little "tough love" thrown their way. Tonight, I'm praising the same fellas... all four of them. They led the team to this win.

As the game went along I wondered what the "excuses" for winning this game would be, but so far I haven't seen any on here. Critics are a dime-a-dozen. I just wish the ones that aren't here could "man up" to their mistake about this team, for this game at least, just one time. But that would be too much to ask for I guess...

Oh well, they'll be back in full force the next time we lose one. And we will lose one. The league has a lot of parity in it this season. This team isn't perfect, Weber isn't perfect and neither is our AD, but who is? I wish people would enjoy the wins as much as they "ride" the above folks when we don't. But they aren't perfect either. None of us are.

It is really just a game...but if you're gonna play, you might as well play hard, give it all you can and good things will happen...like last night in the frozen north land. GO ILLINI!!

Lanphier wrote on February 11, 2011 at 5:02 am

This was a good night WTG guys.

I have gave these guys alot of sh#@ this yr and am still not convinced after one win against a team w/ alot of problems that this will continue,however they proved that they can play inside when the jumpers that they love so much are not working, so there should be absolutely no more excuses for lack of gut,we just seen it.

D-MAC and TIZ took it like men after not getting the start and sucked it up , bravo for that it showed alot of class.

I am still wide awake and it's 5am .....funny how this team affects your life isn't it haha....

kzimmer001 wrote on February 11, 2011 at 7:02 am

Illini played one of their best games last night, am very happy for all of them. I hope they can now build on that success and finish strong!

oandb wrote on February 11, 2011 at 7:02 am

great win. seeing Leonard and Paul was a welcome relief. Leonard really opened up the floor for Davis. Good to see Tisdale getting into it with the opposition. McCmaey finally woke up. And Weber let the kids play which has to happen. Use all the players and the wins will come.

walerius4 wrote on February 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

Nice. Leonard should start and play major minutes.. What a beast!

SEMOIllini wrote on February 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

geriatricillini says: "I wondered what the 'excuse' for winning this game would be, but so far I haven't seen any on here. Critics are a dime-a-dozen. I just wish the ones that aren't here could "man up" to their mistake about this team, for this game at least, just one time."

WHAT EXCUSE AND WHAT MISTAKE? They've played poorly and they've gotten criticism--there has been no mistake about how poorly they've played, so I don't see anything to "man up" about. Weber got heat for not benching the underperforming seniors--he finally did it and they played MUCH better and won the game--HELLO. Now we need to see them play like this the rest of the season. That's all I want--them to play with energy and determination--like they should have all year long. I don't apologize for calling it like I see it and if you think people have made a mistake for criticising this team for their poor play this season (remember UIC, Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State), then you are more "geriatric" than you claim.

ax474 wrote on February 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

Great win! Nice work to the whole team including the coaching staff.

cnichols401 wrote on February 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

Listen, I've been hammering on Weber, and for good reason. One win does not change my mind, but I certainly think the Minnesota game was a well coached, played game. I can give credit where credit is due. I'm still an Illini fan for crying out loud! Now do it again on Sunday, and against Michigan and we may be back in business.

ColdMNIllini wrote on February 11, 2011 at 11:02 am

The local Twin Cities Illini Club was at last night’s game and our group of 70 was right next to the 150-strong Orange Krush. We had a great time – basically took over the upper deck! Great to see the effort and the heart against a team that was in similar desperate straits… Will tell you this… everyone who complains about our fan support should come up here and check the apathy in Gopher country. Our fans are vocal and loyal… and that’s a good thing. Go Illini!!