By Paul Schmidt
Even if you take at face value how much the Illini are trying to win the NIT, their second half performance against Kent State was inspiring.
Such is life for the Illini, who had to answer a barrage of questions about whether or not they really wanted to be in the NIT after their 75-58 win against the Kent State Golden Flashes.
The win was the 21st on the season for the Illini and guaranteed them one more home game — a last dance if you will, Wednesday night against Dayton.
The win ALSO puts the Illini one win from playing in one of basketball’s most venerable venues — Madison Square Garden.
Kent State coach Geno Ford was completely impressed with the Illini effort — and the support of the rabid home fans.
“I’ve now been at a lot of places all around the country at this level, though this is the first time that I’ve been here,” Ford said. “The level of the dedication of the fans is pretty high, and the level of their intelligence is pretty high. They knew to cheer when things weren’t going well, and that’s really what you need to do.”
To the Illini’s credit, they didn’t let them down, despite first half missed opportunities.
The Illini blistered the nets at a 58 percent clip from the field in the second half, and only turned the ball over twice in the second half and basically dominated every facet of the game in outscoring the Golden Flashes 44-27.
While that was, in fact, impressive, the Illini struggled through another flat half of basketball, something that they can’t afford to continue going through in the future.
Illinois forward Mike Davis knows that there is room to improve, and that the key is through their practice, even at this juncture of the season.
“It starts in practice like Demetri said earlier,” Davis said. “If we go and have a great practice tomorrow that should help carry us further into the post season.”
Davis was a particular player of note in the game because of his inflammatory comments about the NIT and the Illini’s place in it. He seemed to imply that the team didn’t really care all that much and wasn’t interested in playing in the tourney. He clarified those remarks after the game tonight.
“I just want to make something clear about the last time I talked to you guys,” Davis said. “I let my emotions get control of me a little bit. The NCAA tournament was going on, and I said a couple of things I shouldn’t have said, and I just really wanted to go out and compete. I would rather be in the NIT and keep playing and try to win a championship. Only two teams end this season on a win, and I hope we can be one of them.”
Weber was also impressed with his teams ability to keep competing and improving through practice.
“We got back real late from Stony Brook Wednesday night, so Friday and Saturday we just went at it really hard,” Weber said. “You ask why didn’t we do that before, well, we tried, but the guys didn’t always respond. They are a little more coachable, they are a little more humble, because they know this is all that’s left.”
“I told Mike Davis that you’ve got to back it up,” Weber added. “You say that stuff you better have one of your better games. Are we all disappointed? Hell yeah. I still get texts from people about why we aren’t here or there. If you’re angry, come out and leave your anger on the court — do something about it.”
Wednesday, the Illini will attempt to continue to do that, and then march on to New York.
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