Illinois Coach Lon Kruger insisted his team would have no trouble recovering quickly from Saturday's tough loss to Maryland in the first round of the BB&T Classic--and he was right. A fine effort from a young team produced a 72-61 victory over Seton Hall in the consolation game last night at MCI Center.
"Overall it was a really good weekend for us," Kruger said. "We got a chance to line up and play quality opponents and make progress."
Seton Hall (3-2) played better than during a first-round loss to George Washington, but mustered just one serious threat after 16th-ranked Illinois (3-2) gained a double-figure lead late in the first half. That came when center Charles Manga scored on an inside flip with 4 minutes 30 seconds left and narrowed the deficit to 60-56.
But sophomore guard Cory Bradford (19 points on 14 shots) responded with one of his five three-pointers that triggered an 8-0 run the Pirates could not counter.
"Our effort was better," said Seton Hall Coach Tommy Amaker, "and we competed at a higher level. But we're looking for consistency."
Both teams substituted liberally, with 16 players seeing at least 13 minutes of playing time. Amaker benched starters Greg Morton and Gary Saunders early because they were late for the team bus.
Illinois pulled ahead early and steadily on a combination of defense and three-point shooting, passing and offensive rebounding.
Freshman point guard Frank Williams provided an 11-9 lead on an eight-footer from the right wing, and his two foul shots and a follow-up by backup center Victor Chuckwudebe offered a comfort zone the Fighting Illini built on throughout the first half.
Several plays showed their unselfishness and versatility. Damir Krupalija grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Cleotis Brown for a layup. A few minutes later, Brown fed Brian Cook for a layup that extended the Illinois lead to 28-19. With about a minute left in the first half, Lucas Johnson missed two open jumpers, but Illinois controlled the ball each time and Cook sank the second putback.
The Pirates missed 20 of their first 28 shots and had nine turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. Sophomore guard Darius Lane earned a starting spot after hitting 6 of 8 three-pointers against George Washington Saturday and was the only Seton Hall outside shooter even remotely accurate.
Lane hit half his six three-pointers and had 11 points in the first half while the other starters were 3 for 11 from the field. He finished with 17 points on 12 shots.
For Illinois, there were 19 assists on its 26 field goals--and Bradford said: "We came in feeling that we could win if we got the loose balls and won the rebound battle. Maryland outhustled us [Saturday] and we realized that's what we had to do better."