Embattled Illini avoid first winless February since 1907



The college basketball season is only five months long, so any time you’re talking about a winless month, it’s not a good sign. And in their seventh and final game of the year’s shortest month, the Illini would not come up short.

They picked up a 65-54 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, avoiding the February donut, which hasn’t happened to the program since 1907.

The Illini also improved their record vs Iowa at home to 61-14 all time; they’ve won 11 in a row at Assembly Hall vs. the Hawks and seven in a row overall against the team from Iowa City.

Bruce Weber improved his record to 13-2 vs. the Hawkeyes, and ended a six game losing streak, a program worst since 1999. Entering tonight, six of the last seven Illini opponents have shot over 50%. Iowa shot just 37% tonight.

Meyers Leonard led the way with 22 points and 14 rebounds. He also went 8-8 from the foul line.

“He guarded better. We watched tape and he was so good early, he didn’t know what he was,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said.

“He was a little humble, and afraid and trying to figure it all out, and once he had some success, he was worried about foul trouble and things like that. He played more physical, but he still gets frustrated, I had to grab him and calm him down a couple times.”

And Meyers got into it with the Iowa big men tonight. Everyone at courtside could hear Weber tell Leonard not to let his opponents talk trash him when things got chippy.

“A couple of guys went at it a little bit, and he has enough problems keeping his focus and concentration, I didn’t want him to get tied up in that,” Weber said.

“He said that someone said something to him, and I said so what, go play, do your talking on the court, you don’t need to talk.”

Leonard didn’t start today, neither did Brandon Paul. Therefore, their two best players sat out. Today’s Illini starters were the five players with the best records in competitive drills the past 2 days of practice: Tracy Abrams, D.J. Richardson, Joe Bertrand, Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu.

“I’ll be completely honest with you,” Leonard told the media before explaining the competitive drills and scoring system that led to his “benching.”

“Unfortunately Brandon and I were not at the top of the charts. They made it tough on us, but that’s something we have to fight through. We were competitive, but they deserved to play, there’s no doubt about it but the guys  gave a nice job, and Brandon and I came on (later) and gave a nice job.”

Finally, a win for a very much embattled program, one described by the very coach as lacking “a culture of toughness.”

“We have great kids, I don’t know if it’s the best I’ve ever coached, but definitely here, as far as regular character, we’ve had no problems. The freshmen are so special, but there’s a different competitive character on the court,” Weber said.

“And that’s when things go wrong, do you have the character to stand up and make a play?”

Tonight they certainly did.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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