Illini fall to Purdue, 66-56, in Big Ten semifinals

John Supinie

A conference tournament has a way of turning top seeds into early exits.

Culminating a wild Championship Week on Saturday, top seeds from the SEC (LSU), ACC (North Carolina) and Big Ten (Michigan State) bit the dust. So when second-seeded Illinois fell 66-56 to third-seeded Purdue in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal game, coach Bruce Weber wasn't concerned about Illinois' seed in the NCAAs.

"There's a lot of people in the country that lost,'' Weber said. "Kansas didn't win its first game (in the Big 12 tourney). Washington, UCLA. Go down the line in every league. North Carolina lost today. So we didn't play well. We're not the only team in the country that got beat today or yesterday.''

Only Louisville reached a power conference championship as a conference No. 1 seed. The Illini are trying to put a happy face on a return to the NCAA field after missing it for the first time in nine years last season.

Illinois (24-9) will wait for the release of the pairings at 5 p.m. Sunday on CBS as Purdue (24-9) and Ohio State play for the conference tournament title. Despite losing both regular-season games to Illinois, Purdue may grab a higher seed than the Illini. Weber felt Illinois could be anywhere from a No. 4 to a No. 7 or even an 8.

"It doesn't matter where you're seeded and where you go,'' Weber said. "If you're worrying about seeding or who you play, all you're doing is getting yourself in trouble mentally. You have to feel good in the tournament. Last year, we weren't in the tournament. The year before, we were on pins and needles. Now we have to feel good about it.''

Despite an overachieving season thus far, it was hard for Illinois to feel good after such a dud Saturday. Illinois missed 16 straight shots, including their last 13 in the first half, and were scoreless for more than eight minutes before halftime. Purdue's 14-0 run made it 37-17 at halftime.

Guard Calvin Brock finally hit a three-pointer to end the madness, and the crowd gave the Illini a Bronx cheer.

"When we didn't make shots, then we kind of shut down after that,'' Illini center Mike Tisdale said.

A day after winning one for injured guard Chester Frazier, who sat the bench in uniform after undergoing surgery on his right hand Thursday, the Illini didn't have that same emotional charge against Purdue.

"We made a big deal about him not playing against Michigan,'' said Illini forward Dominique Keller, who matched his career high with 16 points. "Today we didn't say much about it. We didn't come out with the same intensity. We paid for it. We have to come out with or without Chester and play as hard as we can.''

Davis looked like a superstar in the quarterfinals with his ninth double-double of the season, then couldn't make a big contribution with Purdue forward Robbie Hummel on him. Davis finished with six points on 2-for-8 shooting and 12 rebounds.

"They guarded me,'' Davis said. "Hummel was 6’8”. I wasn't playing against a 6’5” midget. They did a good job of not letting me catch it in my comfort spots and not let me shoot open shots. They guarded me well.''

Guard Demetri McCamey failed to score and had two assists with four turnovers, logging only 4 minutes in the second half. Making his second consecutive start in place of Frazier and only his fourth all season, Brock had 12 points and five rebounds. Sophomore reserve Bill Cole scored a career-high nine points while playing 10 minutes late in the game.

The preseason league favorite, Purdue might be rolling at the right time. Hummel, who missed one of the games against Illinois and was slowed by back pain in the other meeting, had 19 points and 12 rebounds. He scored eight consecutive points in the first half when Purdue used an 11-0 run to take control.

"We're healthy now,'' Purdue guard Chris Kramer said. "We've got Rob back, and we completely bought into how Purdue needs to play. We need to play as hard as we can and play to exhaustion.''

Sophomore center JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers with 20 points.

"It's just good for us all to be on the floor together,'' Hummel said. "The more time we'll get, the better we'll be.''

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois report card

Front court: F

The Illini big men were outscored 39-10. Mike Davis couldn't duplicate his big game from Friday. Mike Tisdale didn't get a touch in the post until the second half. Meanwhile, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel went head-to-head for star of the game.

Back court: C-

Calvin Brock showed he can handle the starting assignment. Following a strong defensive game Friday, he scored 12 points against Purdue. But Demetri McCamey played his way to the bench. He failed to score and coughed up four turnovers while only getting two assists.

Bench: C-

Dominique Keller had some fight and matched a career high with 16 points. Jeff Jordan played with some intensity. Bill Cole came off the bench and scored a career-high nine points in the final 10 minutes.

Overall: F

If you don't play hard and don't make shots, there's little chance of winning. The Illini missed 16 straight shots, including their final 13 in the first half while failing to score for the final 8 minutes, 32 seconds before halftime. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years last March, the Illini now wonder how one last loss will affect their seed.