Illinois snaps road skid, tops Minnesota 71-62Published 8:20am Friday, February 11, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS — Illinois coach Bruce Weber wanted to get his struggling team’s attention, so less than 20 minutes before tipoff Thursday night against Minnesota, he told starters Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Jereme Richmond that they were coming off the bench.
The message was received like a sledgehammer, and the Illini responded with a road victory they desperately needed.
Mike Davis had 17 points and nine rebounds and McCamey scored 17 points to lead Illinois to a 71-62 victory.
McCamey turned the ball over five times and had only four assists, but Weber liked the energy he showed on the defensive end and his willingness to get on the floor for loose balls.
“He’s struggled, and he’s gotten frustrated,” Weber said. “He didn’t practice very hard for a stretch, and I’d say we got his attention this week.”
D.J. Richardson added 11 points for the Illini (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten), who outscored Minnesota 23-2 off the bench to snap a four-game road losing streak.
Trevor Mbakwe had 17 points and 16 rebounds and Ralph Sampson III added 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for the Golden Gophers (16-8, 5-7). Minnesota has lost four straight games, including two at home that have seriously hurt their NCAA tournament resume.
Coach Tubby Smith blasted his team after the game, saying:
“Physically, maybe they’re incapable of doing some of the things we’re asking them to do. The system works. You’ve just got to have the right people on the bus. We’ve got to get those folks believing and trusting in what we’re doing and doing it the right way.”
Blake Hoffarber scored 15 points, but Minnesota’s leading scorer made just 5 of 13 shots and was harassed all night by a determined Illinois defense.
As the clock ticked down, a vocal contingent of Illini fans chanted, “This is our house!”
In a sloppy game in which the teams combined for 28 turnovers and both hovered around 33 percent shooting for much of it, Davis hit several big shots down the stretch to hold off the Gophers.
Both teams came in desperate for a win. The Gophers were reeling without injured starting point guard Al Nolen, and the Illini had lost four straight on the road.
Weber showed just how desperate he was with his starting lineup. Three of the team’s top four scorers began the game on the bench.
The biggest surprise was McCamey. He led the team at 14.7 points per game and was seventh in the nation with 6.7 assists. He is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard and figured to give the Illini a big mismatch against a Gophers team that lacked a true point guard in Nolen’s absence.
But Weber went with sophomore Brandon Paul at point guard and reserves Meyers Leonard and Bill Cole in the starting lineup.
Illinois started the game 1-for-7 from the field and trailed 5-4 when Weber finally put in the regular starters just over 4 1/2 minutes in.
Illinois outscored Minnesota 13-5 over the next 6 minutes to take a nine-point lead.
“The last couple of weeks I’ve let my offense affect my defense and my energy and being a vocal leader for this team,” McCamey said. “My teammates called me out and told me I’ve got to be better at that, and I think I stepped up to show them I’m still here. I’m not going nowhere.”
Mbakwe kept the Gophers in it with a double-double — 10 points and 10 rebounds — in the first half. Hoffarber’s 3-pointer early in the second half capped a 13-0 run to give Minnesota a 34-30 lead.
But the deeper Illini, with eight players getting significant minutes, started to wear down the Gophers’ starters in the final 7 minutes.
Weber threw three different defenders at Hoffarber, hounding him on the perimeter and forcing the ball out of his hands. Hoffarber missed seven of his 10 3-pointers and grew more frustrated as the game went on.
“I thought Blake took some bad shots,” Smith said. “That cost us. Just to be point blank, tell you how it was. I just told him, ‘Why don’t you shot-fake and get a foul one time, please?’ ”
Richardson’s 3-pointer from the wing gave Illinois a 61-55 lead with 4:25 to go, and the Gophers managed just six points in the next 6 minutes to fade away.
“They were just more hungry for the win than we were,” Sampson said.