Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Game Recap: Cornell 60, Illinois 64

Below, recaps from Monday night's game.


VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE GAME








I Box Score (PDF)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- No. 25/24 Illinois hit a pair of big shots late in the second half and did just enough to rally past Cornell on Monday evening at Assembly Hall. The Big Red gave the Illini all it could handle, leading a majority of the game before slipping to 4-5. Illinois improved to 11-1 with the win.

Junior Josh Figini tied his career high with 14 points, all in the first nine minutes of the game, to set the tone. Senior Chris Wroblewski, making a return to his home state, added 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal. Drew Ferry had nine points and Galal Cancer notched five points, four assists and three steals. As a team, Cornell hit 10 3-pointers and commited a season-low 10 turnovers.

Meyers Leonard had game highs of 19 points and 16 rebounds to go along with three blocked shots, while D.J. Richardson had 17 points and Brandon Paul scored 15. Illinois won the battle of the boards 42-25 and limited the Big Red to under 40 percent shooting in the win. Illinois got all 64 points from its starters, with Cournell holding a 16-0 scoring edge from its reserves.

Cornell showed it wouldn't go away by hitting shot after shot, making five of its first seven shots from beyond the arc and getting another three-point play after getting fouled on a shot from beyond the arc. Figini did most of the damage. hitting the first 3-pointer of the game and then scoring 11 consecutive points for the Big Red to erase an early 10-3 deficit to take a 20-14 lead eight minutes in. Cornell extended the first half lead to as many as 10 at 24-14 after a 3-pointer by Max Groebe and a free throw by Cancer.

Illinois got back within one twice, but each time Cornell answered, once on a jumper by Wroblewski and another time with an answer by Gray. Illinois took the lead momentarily at 32-30 before Miller hit a jumper from the corner to send the game into the break tied at 32-32.

The second half started the same way the first did, but this time it was Ferry getting hot. The senior picked off a steal and hit a 3-pointer in transition on the team's first possession, then nailed another after an offensive rebound by Shonn Miller. The lead grew to six on a short jumper by Johnathan Gray with 12:57 left in regulation as Cornell refused to go away. The Big Red answered every Illinois basket, as Eitan Chemerinski and Cancer each got buckets to keep the visitors in the lead.

The final 10 minutes featured five ties and three lead changes, with Illinois getting the final surge. Wroblewski answered an Illinois run with a steal and consecutive 3-pointers with approximately five minutes to play, but the home team had one last surge in them. After Cancer scored on a driving with 2:25 left to give the Big Red a 58-56 advantage, Paul answered with consecutive jumpers to tie the game and then take the lead, the latter with under five seconds left on the shot clock. Ferry missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Figini rimmed out a tip-in attempt, and other end, Richardson put the game out of reach with a 17-footer at the end of the shot clock with less than 20 seconds left. Ferry again rimmed out a trey and the home team rebounded and hit a pair of free throws to go up 64-58 with five seconds to play. A Miller tip-in at the buzzer was the final points for either team.

The Big Red will be back in action when it visits Penn State on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.


As Illinois and Cornell walked through the postgame handshake line, a fan behind press row shouted his opinion of Monday's game.

"You got lucky, Illinois!"

The fan was wearing orange. And after the Ivy League visitors led for most of the second half at the Assembly Hall, he was probably right. Illinois eventually won, 64-60.

On Thursday against No. 9 Missouri — and that ranking is probably too low — the Illini are going to need all the luck in the St. Louis casinos.

The Tigers (11-0) are playing fast and confident and as well as any team in the country. Illinois (11-1) had to overcome its largest deficit this season — 10 points — to slip past a Cornell (4-5) squad picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League.

"No one's been able to stop them," Bruce Weber said of Missouri. "They score a lot of points. They shoot the three. They run."

Weber added, "Those dudes play hard."

One other thing: the current Tigers sincerely enjoy beating the Illini. They own a two-game winning streak in the Braggin' Rights series and their postgame locker room sounded like an eggnog party after both double-digit wins.

"If we come out like we did today, the game's going to be over before we know it," said UI junior Brandon Paul, who made a pair of clutch jumpers to beat Cornell.

"We know they're good and it's going to be a tough game," said Meyers Leonard, who had his third double-double (19 points, career-high 16 rebounds).

And there is the Illini's singular advantage, at least in terms of personnel: the 7-foot-1 Leonard. With Missouri's four-guard look, there isn't the imposing figure in the paint. But like the brilliant Illini of 2004-05, "No one's been able to take advantage of them with (their) lack of size," Weber said.

Leonard acknowledged he would play a significant role if the Illini were to swing the upset. He sustained a strained back against Cornell but said afterward, "I'll fight through it."

"I do like the matchup (with Missouri), definitely. I feel like I can take over the game," Leonard said. "I did a good job of that in the first half (Monday)."

"He's a big advantage for us," Weber said. "But we've got to get him touches."

Yes, the Tigers have played an easy schedule, but they have ripped through it like it was a wet paper bag. Mizzou's won eight of its past nine games by at least 25 points. Every win has come by at least 10 points. Illinois will be the second ranked team to play Missouri. The Tigers crushed the other one (then-No. 18 California) by 39.

Meanwhile, Illinois is trying to reinvent its identity. Two months ago it was considered a deep team that might be able to wear down opponents. Now, the bench has managed three points in the past two games and has been outscored in six straight.

Missouri's pressure defense demands you have fresh legs. But the Illini bench production has regressed so sharply, it's almost as if the coaches are nervous to make substitutions.

"If we play this way against Missouri it could be a long night," Weber said.

UI 64, Cornell 60: Just the facts

What happened
Despite a 16-point loss to UNLV on Saturday, Illinois stayed in the Top 25
polls Monday. Voters aren’t playing close enough attention. The Illini
haven’t looked like a Top 25 team since beating Gonzaga on Dec. 3. Their
struggles continued as Cornell built a 10-point lead and hung tough before
succumbing to the Illini’s superior athletes.

What it means
Opponents are figuring out what works against Illinois. UNLV switched
everything on defense. Cornell switched between zone and man-to-man
defenses. Both seemed to confuse the Illini decision-makers. "Our young
guys are not sure of what we’re doing yet (on offense)," Bruce Weber said.
Meyers Leonard had a career-high 16 rebounds.

What the Illini said
“Any time you get a team with local players – with all their family and
friends – they’re going to play at a high level.” –Weber on Cornell, which
had several players from the Midwest

What the Big Red said
“I know they had been shooting a lot of jumpshots. So we knew their
emphasis was going to be getting it inside (near) the basket.” –Coach Bill
Courtney

What’s next
No. 25 Illinois vs. No. 9 Missouri at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on
Thursday (8, ESPN2). The Tigers are looking for their first three-game
Braggin’ Rights winning streak since 1999. After a relative lull in the
series, both rivals will be ranked for their annual showdown for the
second straight season.

Cornell's hot perimeter shooting and pesky zone defense almost helped the Big Red pull off a huge upset of Illinois.

The Big Red had the Illini playing catch up for most of the game, with the two teams exchanging leads until the final minute. D.J. Richardson's pull-up jumper from just inside the arc with 17 seconds left helped No. 25 Illinois to a 64-60 victory Monday night.

"I thought our kids really played hard," Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said. "We had some opportunities in the game, and whenever you come in to a hostile Big Ten environment and have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them."

Meyers Leonard had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, overcoming a back injury to lead the Illini.

After trailing for the most of the game, Illinois (11-1) was sparked by Richardson's nine points in the second half and narrowly avoided its second consecutive loss.

"We were gritty down the stretch and found a way to win," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "The last stretch of the game I thought we played harder. Finally, we picked up the intensity and did a better job defending."

Josh Figini scored all 14 of his points in the first half to lead Cornell (4-4). The forward sat out the last 7 minutes of the half after picking up two fouls and was limited the rest of the game.

Illinois opened the second half 1 for 13 from the field and fell behind 42-36, then put together a 14-6 run to regain the lead. The teams exchanged leads until the final minute, when Richardson hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to put Illinois ahead 62-58.

Cornell hit six 3-pointers, including three by Figini, to jump out to a 24-14 lead. Led by several baskets from Leonard, Illinois tied the score 32-all by halftime.

Leonard's big first half -- 15 points and nine rebounds -- allowed Illinois to stay in the game as it struggled with its outside shooting against Cornell's zone defense.

It looked as if the Illini might have been without their starting center when Leonard went to the locker room 5 minutes into the second half after getting hit in the back. But he returned a few minutes later, still grimacing as he checked back into the game.

Leonard, who was held to four points and three shot attempts in the second half, said the injury was a strained back and that the pain was manageable.

"I just iced it and came back out," Leonard said. "I'll be fine, I'll fight through it."

Richardson, the team's leading scorer, scored 17 points, 11 in the second half.

"He's been our leader and most consistent guy," Weber said. "He's grown up a lot. He had a great freshman year, a very average at best sophomore year and he's learned from it."

Brandon Paul broke out of a scoring slump with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting for Illinois. Sam Maniscalco continued to struggle, however, going 1 for 7 and finishing with five points.

In the last four games, Maniscalco is 9 for 36 from the field.

"One thing we talked about is getting some rest for (Maniscalco)," Weber said.

Cornell's Chris Wroblewski, who grew up in Highland Park, Ill., scored 10 points and had six rebounds.

The starting five led the way for Illinois, with the bench only contributing a combined 41 minutes and being held without any points. Depth has been a problem for Illinois this season -- the reserves have been held to single digits in scoring in four of the last six games.

"They've got to give us energy," Weber said. "They can't worry about scoring. They don't have to go in and make a play. I've got to be careful subbing in too many at a time."

Illinois outrebounded Cornell 42-25 and had 13 offensive rebounds. There were eight lead changes and the score was tied nine times.

"I think we could have had a better game today," Richardson said. "We're happy with the win, but we have to work on things and get better. We have to get more from our bench."

CHAMPAIGN -- So much for a breather.

Despite facing a .500 Ivy League team, Illinois didn't have time to relax in a game crammed between two ranked teams on the schedule. Instead, Illinois fought Monday night to overcome a 10-point deficit to beat Cornell 64-60 at Assembly Hall.

"We didn't come out with as much fire as we wanted to, but we won the game," guard Brandon Paul said.

Center Meyers Leonard led the Illini with 19 points and 16 rebounds but was limited after leaving the game briefly in the second half with a back injury. Junior guards Paul and D.J. Richardson -- the veterans of the team -- filled the void to help the Illini dig out of a 10-point deficit.

The No. 25 Illini (11-1) realize that repeating their efforts from their loss to UNLV on Saturday and their too-close victory against Cornell on Monday won't translate well Thursday night in St. Louis against No. 9 Missouri.

"If we play this way against Missouri it could be a long night," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

Richardson and Paul combined for 24 of Illinois' 32 second-half points to stifle an upset bid by the Big Red (4-5).

Richardson had connected on 5 of 8 3-pointers against UNLV but it mattered little because Illinois had fallen in such a deep hole. It made all the difference against Cornell.

He made 5 of 10 3-pointers against the Big Red, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the second half. Paul scored 13 of his 15 in the second half.

"Me and Brandon being upperclassmen made some big shots," Richardson said.

The Assembly Hall crowd booed in the second half when the Illini came out shooting just 1-for-13.

The Illini appeared in a bind when Leonard left the game to head to the locker room, holding his back. He later said he had been hit by someone's hip and it felt like "a razor blade."

He returned a few minutes later, but Cornell limited his touches and Weber said Leonard was tired.

Cornell's Chris Wroblewski, a Highland Park native, finished with 10 points, while Josh Figini led the Big Red with 14 points.

"They put some heat on us and we found a way to respond," Weber said.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Fresh off its first loss of the season against UNLV and with Missouri (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) looming on Thursday, Illinois could have used an easy win against Cornell.

Monday night's 64-60 victory was anything but easy for Illinois (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP).Meyers Leonard had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, overcoming a back injury to lead the Illini.After trailing for the most of the game, Illinois (11-1) was sparked by D.J. Richardson's nine points in the second half and narrowly avoided its second consecutive loss."We were gritty down the stretch and found a way to win," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "The last stretch of the game I thought we played harder. Finally, we picked up the intensity and did a better job defending."Josh Figini scored all 14 of his points in the first half to lead Cornell (4-5). The forward sat out the last 7 minutes of the half after picking up two fouls and was limited the rest of the game.Illinois opened the second half 1 for 13 from the field and fell behind 42-36, then put together a 14-6 run to regain the lead. The teams exchanged leads until the final minute, when Richardson hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to put Illinois ahead 62-58.Cornell hit six 3-pointers, including three by Figini, to jump out to a 24-14 lead. Led by several baskets from Leonard, Illinois tied the score 32-all by halftime.Leonard's big first half -- 15 points and nine rebounds -- allowed Illinois to stay in the game as it struggled with its outside shooting against Cornell's zone defense."I thought our kids really played hard," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "We had some opportunities in the game, and whenever you come in to a hostile Big Ten environment and have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them."It looked as if the Illini might have been without their starting center when Leonard went to the locker room 5 minutes into the second half after getting hit in the back. But he returned a few minutes later, still grimacing as he checked back into the game.Leonard, who was held to four points and three shot attempts in the second half, said the injury was a strained back and that the pain was manageable."I just iced it and came back out," Leonard said. "I'll be fine, I'll fight through it."Richardson, the team's leading scorer, scored 17 points, 11 in the second half."He's been our leader and most consistent guy," Weber said. "He's grown up a lot. He had a great freshman year, a very average at best sophomore year and he's learned from it."Brandon Paul broke out of a scoring slump with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting for Illinois. Sam Maniscalco continued to struggle, however, going 1 for 7 and finishing with five points.In the last four games, Maniscalco is 9 for 36 from the field."One thing we talked about is getting some rest for (Maniscalco)," Weber said.Cornell's Chris Wroblewski, who grew up in Highland Park, Ill., scored 10 points and had six rebounds.The starting five led the way for Illinois, with the bench only contributing a combined 41 minutes and being held without any points. Depth has been a problem for Illinois this season -- the reserves have been held to single digits in scoring in four of the last six games."They've got to give us energy," Weber said. "They can't worry about scoring. They don't have to go in and make a play. I've got to be careful subbing in too many at a time."Illinois outrebounded Cornell 42-25 and had 13 offensive rebounds. There were eight lead changes and the score was tied nine times."I think we could have had a better game today," Richardson said. "We're happy with the win, but we have to work on things and get better. We have to get more from our bench."


In need of a confidence boost and a sign that the Braggin' Rights game won't become another Missouri blowout, Illinois found itself staring at a six-point deficit in the second half Monday night.

A smattering of boos rippled through Assembly Hall. And making matters worse, center Meyers Leonard left the court and retreated briefly to the locker room after being drilled in the back.

In the end, the Illini took home a 64-60 win over Cornell, but it wasn't the statement they wanted to make three days before facing No. 9 Mizzou in St. Louis.

"If we come out the way we did tonight, the game will be over before we know it," guard Brandon Paul said. "We have to change our mindset. It's going to be a packed game, so we have to come ready to play and be locked in the whole game."

That has been a problem for the Illini (11-1), who are clinging to a No. 25 ranking after last week's loss to Nevada-Las Vegas in Chicago.

They had to fight off Coppin State in the previous home game and rallied in the final five minutes to defeat St. Bonaventure.

Against Cornell, Illinois needed an 8-0 run in the final two minutes to wipe out a 58-56 deficit after trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half.

"We play this way against Missouri and it could be a long night," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "We'll definitely have to play hopefully a little looser, be aggressive and sharper."

Leonard was able to return to the game to cap a 19-point, 16-rebound performance. But it was Paul who came up with the biggest plays down the stretch after also rescuing the Illini against the Bonnies.

He scored eight points in the last six minutes, including consecutive 15-foot jumpers to tie the game at 58 with 1 minute 54 seconds left and give Illinois the lead moments later.

"We found a way to grind it out," Paul said. "We're not content with the way we played. We have to get to practice and work on things. We didn't come out with as much fire as we wanted."

Illinois has suffered some unexpected losses the week before Christmas the last several years, including Illinois-Chicago last season, Georgia in 2009 and Miami (Ohio) in 2007.

Cornell had all the makings of another holiday horror story.

The Big Red (4-5) seemed intent on attacking with 3-pointers and used an early barrage to open a double-digit lead. Their defensive plan was to stop Leonard, shadow shooter D.J. Richardson and dare the rest of the Illini to beat them from the perimeter.

However, Leonard made nine of 11 shots and Richardson connected on five 3-pointers to foil the effort.

"I just try to stay consistent like I have been the whole season," Richardson said. "Meyers had a great game. Brandon stepped up and made some big plays. If me and Brandon and Meyers stay consistent, we're tough to beat."

The booing the Illini heard in Chicago followed them home as fans became restless in the second half. The offense again appeared confused as Cornell opened a 42-36 lead while Illinois had just one field goal in the first eight minutes of the half.

The rally was hindered when the starters weren't on the floor as the bench failed to score for the second time in four games, missing 10 shots. The Illinois reserves have only 29 points in the last six games.

But Paul bailed the Illini out.

And after he gave them the lead, Richardson hit a short jumper with 18 seconds left to seal the victory.

Illinois jumped to a 10-3 lead before Cornell went on a 21-4 run, which was fueled by a flurry of open 3-pointers. Josh Figini matched his career high of 14 points in the first eight minutes by hitting three of the Big Red's six first-half 3s and the lead grew to 24-14. He didn't score another point.

When the shots stopped falling, Leonard asserted himself and pulled the Illini even at 32 at halftime. He made seven of eight shots, scored 15 points and had nine rebounds at the intermission.

The Illinois men’s basketball team’s play Monday landed somewhere in the middle between Saturday’s performance against UNLV and how they hope to perform Thursday against Missouri.

The No. 25 Illini (11-1) escaped Cornell 64-60 in a game featuring improvement in nearly area from Saturday, but that still saw little bench production and problems coming out strong in the first half.

“I think we could’ve had a better game today,” Illinois junior guard D.J. Richardson said. “We happy with the win, that we got the win. But still, we’ve got to work on things and get better.”

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber put it a little differently.

“If we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night,” Weber said.

Trailing 15-14 with 13:47 left in the opening period, Illinois went on a four minute, 18 second scoring drought, which it exited trailing by eight after a Meyers Leonard jumper at the 9:29 mark.

Illinois would not retake the lead before halftime, with Leonard accounting for 15 of Illinois’ 32 points and nine of its 22 rebounds at the break.

Cornell (4-5) shot 6-of-12 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half and contained the Illini defense – Leonard excluded – for much of the game, switching between mostly zone in the first half and man in the second half.

But in the second period, juniors Richardson and Brandon Paul took over. The two scored 24 of their combined 32 points after halftime, including three long-range buckets from Richardson.

“The big-time players for them made big-time plays down the stretch,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said.

With 15 points, the game marked a return to double-digit scoring for Paul, who was held to seven against UNLV.

Paul and Richardson keyed an Illinois rally in the middle of the second half.

With the Assembly Hall crowd on its feet exiting a media timeout, Paul made a layup and was fouled, converting the free throw to bring Illinois within three, 42-39.

Forty-four seconds later, Richardson tied the game with a 3-pointer. Cornell would never lead by more than four points the rest of the game.

“The crowd was the big key tonight,” Richardson said. “You know, they helped out on the energy end.”

Illinois’ one positive constant on offense between Monday’s game and the UNLV game was Richardson, who followed his 19 points against UNLV with 17 Monday.

“He’s been very confident and been our most consistent guy,” Weber said of Richardson.

Remaining in a scoring drought Monday was senior Sam Maniscalco, who has scored a combined 11 points in his last two games, roughly equal to his current average per game.

Weber suggested that the best thing for Mansicalco, as well as the Illini bench, which went scoreless Monday, might be more practice time, as well as rest.

“To be honest, they probably need to go home for the holidays and get away from it,” Weber said.

But first, the Illini must head to St. Louis to take on No. 9 Missouri in the annual Busch Braggin’ Rights game.

They head into that contest with a slightly better taste in their mouths than when they entered Monday’s game.

“The fact that we got the win is all that matters, that’s all I care about,” Leonard said.

“We found a way to win, we grinded it out,” Paul said. “Obviously, we’re not content with the way we played.”



Illini beat Cornell 64-60: That was perhaps the least fun win I have ever seen
Hail To The Orange

There isn't much to say about this. It was a win yes. It was a win that required Illinois to go on a 9-4 run in the last two minutes. It required Brandon Paul to go into beast mode to win. It required Meyers Leonard to roll out 19 points and 16 rebounds to do it. It required Cornell to score four points in the last 4:30.

Illinois beat a .500 Ivy League team at home and nobody involved had any fun at all.

Good point Akon.

Because in all fairness, Illinois ended up having to overcome another goose egg of a game from the bench, non starters accounted for zero points in 41 minutes of game time.

The Big Red also had a ridiculous game from beyond the arc, sinking 10 of their 22 baskets from three point range.

For most of the time the game plan was to either have Meyers Leonard overpower a triple team or turn the ball over (the team had 14 turnovers)

The Cornell defense relied on denying the ball to Meyers Leonard and hoping the guards couldn't shoot out of it. The zone gave the Illini problems, but it apparently didn't stop Meyers Leonard from scoring near 20 points and dominating the backboard and D.J. Richardson rolling up 17 points himself. Its just that the offense looked really non-confident and unsure of themselves.

Meyers Leonard clearly handled the double, triple, and quadruple teams better, but as one commenter said, if the Illini see anything other than a zone defense the rest of this season it will be a colossal mistake (or they will be facing Bruce Weber in a mirror match)

The team is a series of contradictions, a team that runs 12 players deep, but frankly cant score without the starters. A team that has a dominant center but can't win without sinking a ton of threes. A team that drains jumpers against man defense but goes cold from the perimeter against a zone.

I can't explain it folks. But I'll see you all in St. Louis. It is going to be one to remember, or to forget, with as much alcohol as is possible.

Illinois squeaks past Cornell
Herald-Review

CHAMPAIGN - Watching the Illini basketball team run its offense has taken both courage and blinders the past week.

Between the missed shots, stalled possessions and turnovers, it hasn't been easy to watch.

But if fans closed their eyes in the final two minutes of Monday's game, they missed a rare burst of clutch shooting that helped defeat scrappy Cornell 64-60 at Assembly Hall.

Trailing 58-56, Brandon Paul hit consecutive jump shots and D.J. Richardson followed with one of his own as Illinois side-stepped what could easily have been the team's second straight loss.

Having dropped from No. 19 to No. 25 in the Associated Press national rankings earlier in the day, Illinois rode strong performances from Meyers Leonard, Richardson and Paul to improve to 11-1 going into Thursday night's annual Braggin' Rights showdown with unbeaten and ninth-ranked Missouri in St. Louis.

Leonard, who was coming off his most frustrating game of the season against UNLV, bounced back with 19 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. He made nine of 11 shots and grabbed a key rebound that led to Richardson's late-game jumper.

Richardson hit five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. And Paul added 15 points, 13 in the second half.

Cornell (4-5) rained in some early 3-pointers and owned a 10-point lead at 24-14 before Illinois pulled even (32-32) at the half.

But Cornell kept the heat on in the second half and took a 58-56 lead on a driving basket by Galal Cancer with 2:25 to play.At that point it became a matter of which of Illinois' "big three" would counter. Would it be Richardson, Paul or Leonard? Those three accounted for 28 of Illinois' 32 second-half points on a night when the bench did not contribute a point.

Paul fired the first response, hitting an open 18-footer to tie the game 58-58 with 1:51 to play.

And after Cornell's Chris Wroblewski missed an open 3-pointer, Paul dribbled in and nailed another jump shot to give the Illini a 60-58 lead with 1:05 to go.

Then came the game's most important rebound. After Cornell misfired from the corner, the rebound caromed in and out of five sets of hands before Leonard snatched it for the Illini.

And as two dead-tired teams moved to the other end, Richardson summoned the energy to knock down a 16-foot jumper that extended the Illini lead to 62-58 with 14.8 seconds to go.

After a final missed shot by Cornell, Sam Maniscalco knocked down two free throws and the Illini had successfully dodged the upset.

"I thought we played really hard," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "But you have to give those guys a lot of credit, particularly Leonard, Richardson and Paul. Those are big-time players and they made big-time plays down the stretch."

Leonard took a physical pounding that sent him to the locker room for a brief moment in the second half.

"Early I got hit really hard in the mouth," he said. "Then I got elbowed once in the neck. And then I took a hip in the back that felt like a razor blade."

It was that final blow that knocked Leonard out of the game briefly, but he returned and said he was fine the rest of the way.

Illini coach Bruce Weber said second-half improvements on defense probably allowed Illinois to win the game.

"I thought the last stretch of the game we played much harder," he said. "Finally we picked up the intensity and did a better job defending. They put some heat on us but we found a way to respond.

"But if we play this way against Missouri it could be a long night. Hopefully we'll be aggressive and a little sharper.

"Every game is different but we are going to have to play better against Missouri. No one has been able to stop them. No one has taken advantage of their lack of size.

"Those dudes play hard. They are playing very confident. We're going to haves to disrupt that and play a special game."


Highlights | Box Score | Photos | Notes

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Fresh off its first loss of the season against UNLV and with No. 9 Missouri looming on Thursday, Illinois could have used an easy win against Cornell.

Monday night's 64-60 victory was anything but easy for No. 25 Illinois.

Meyers Leonard had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, overcoming a back injury to lead the Illini.

After trailing for the most of the game, Illinois (11-1) was sparked by D.J. Richardson's nine points in the second half and narrowly avoided its second consecutive loss.

"We were gritty down the stretch and found a way to win," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "The last stretch of the game I thought we played harder. Finally, we picked up the intensity and did a better job defending."

Josh Figini scored all 14 of his points in the first half to lead Cornell (4-4). The forward sat out the last 7 minutes of the half after picking up two fouls and was limited the rest of the game.

Illinois opened the second half 1 for 13 from the field and fell behind 42-36, then put together a 14-6 run to regain the lead. The teams exchanged leads until the final minute, when Richardson hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to put Illinois ahead 62-58.

Cornell hit six 3-pointers, including three by Figini, to jump out to a 24-14 lead. Led by several baskets from Leonard, Illinois tied the score 32-all by halftime.

Leonard's big first half - 15 points and nine rebounds - allowed Illinois to stay in the game as it struggled with its outside shooting against Cornell's zone defense.

"I thought our kids really played hard," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "We had some opportunities in the game, and whenever you come in to a hostile Big Ten environment and have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them."

It looked as if the Illini might have been without their starting center when Leonard went to the locker room 5 minutes into the second half after getting hit in the back. But he returned a few minutes later, still grimacing as he checked back into the game.

Leonard, who was held to four points and three shot attempts in the second half, said the injury was a strained back and that the pain was manageable.

"I just iced it and came back out," Leonard said. "I'll be fine, I'll fight through it."

Richardson, the team's leading scorer, scored 17 points, 11 in the second half.

"He's been our leader and most consistent guy," Weber said. "He's grown up a lot. He had a great freshman year, a very average at best sophomore year and he's learned from it."

Brandon Paul broke out of a scoring slump with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting for Illinois. Sam Maniscalco continued to struggle, however, going 1 for 7 and finishing with five points.

In the last four games, Maniscalco is 9 for 36 from the field.

"One thing we talked about is getting some rest for (Maniscalco)," Weber said.

Cornell's Chris Wroblewski, who grew up in Highland Park, Ill., scored 10 points and had six rebounds.

The starting five led the way for Illinois, with the bench only contributing a combined 41 minutes and being held without any points. Depth has been a problem for Illinois this season - the reserves have been held to single digits in scoring in four of the last six games.

"They've got to give us energy," Weber said. "They can't worry about scoring. They don't have to go in and make a play. I've got to be careful subbing in too many at a time."

Illinois outrebounded Cornell 42-25 and had 13 offensive rebounds. There were eight lead changes and the score was tied nine times.

"I think we could have had a better game today," Richardson said. "We're happy with the win, but we have to work on things and get better. We have to get more from our bench."





The best way to beat Cornell, or No. 9 Missouri for that matter, is for No. 25 Illinois to throw it to sophomore center Meyers Leonard.

Cornell really had nothing to stop Leonard, the 7-foot-1 center who came up big with 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots in Illinois’ 64-60 win Monday, except for maybe a few elbows and chop blocks from the scrappy Big Red.

Leonard had only three shots in the second half, when the Illini needed to rally to beat a team picked to finish sixth in the eight-team Ivy League.

“The fact that we got the win is all that matters,’’ Leonard said. “That’s all I care about. I probably needed to get more shots in the second half, but the win is all that matters.’’

Even if it looked like a bounce-back game for Illinois, this did anything but soothe any hurt suffered in the season’s first loss in Chicago last weekend. The Illini would probably like that one to stay hidden on espn3.com, where the game’s broadcast was shoved to the Internet, but there were too many witnesses to corroborate the story.

Illinois didn’t take control until an 8-0 run rallied the Illini to a 64-58 lead with 18.7 seconds left.

“We’ve got to play better against Missouri, there’s no doubt,’’ Illini coach Bruce Weber said. “If we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night.’’

This wasn’t any way to build confidence before the Illini (11-1) play Missouri (11-0) in St. Louis at 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2). The Tigers were installed as early 10-point favorites. That was before the Vegas oddsmakers caught a bit of this one.

Perghaps the only way to keep pace with Missouri is simple. Throw the dang ball to Leonard, who must be a force against undersized-but-aggressive Mizzou. The Tigers went to small ball after power forward Laurence Bowers suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Thus, they essentially went to a four-guard lineup.

“He’s a big advantage for us,’’ Weber said. “We’ve got to get (Leonard) touches. Missouri is very guard oriented. The four-man got hurt. Out for the year. They just said, ‘Hey we’re going small ball. We’re going to see what happens.’ It’s been very effective.

“No one’s been able to stop them. They score a lot of points. They shoot the 3. Those dudes play hard. That’s one thing they do. We have to disrupt that and play a special game.’’

A win over the Mizzou would also help the Illini build some confidence, not to mention getting the crowd back on their side. For the second straight game, the Illini were booed by people wearing orange and blue.

Part of the problem for the Illini is they haven’t figured out how running offense through Leonard could change the game, or it’s just too hard for them to do it. Leonard was visibly frustrated in the second half against Cornell, a team that had the heighth of a Class 3A roster.

UNLV had the athleticism to disrupt the Illini in a 16-point win Saturday in Chicago, but Cornell had no advantage is size or quickness.

“I’ve got to remind myself to stay in the paint and be physical,’’ Leonard said. “It goes both ways. I’ve got be more aggressive and try to dominate the game.’’

Midway through the second half, Leonard left the game briefly after a hip check to the back.

“It felt like a razor blade,’’ he said.

The Illini were 1 of 13 from the field to start the second half, and Cornell jumped between zone and man-to-man to further confuse the Illini. Guard Brandon Paul had two baskets, guard D.J Richardson had a basket and point guard Sam Maniscalco hit two free throws in the decisive eight-point run to win the game.

Richardson scored 17 points and Paul had 15.

Cornell forward Josh Figini scored 14 points to set a career high, doing all his scoring in the first 8 minutes, but Cornell fell to 4-5.

“We knew they’d try to get the ball inside against us tonight,’’ Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “We tried to go zone and pack it in and shade toward Richardson and make the other guys beat us from the outside.’’

Thanks to a 21-4 spurt, Cornell took a 24-14 lead in the first half. The Big Red scored 15 of its first 18 points from the 3-point line.


Talk about an Ivy League education.

Then again, maybe it’s a good thing Cornell befuddled No. 25 Illinois with a zone mixed with some man-to-man Monday.

Against the kind of changing defenses that will bedevil them often this season if they don’t learn to do a better job against them, the Illini survived 64-60.

‘‘The fact that we got the win is all that matters,’’ said center Meyers Leonard, who led Illinois with 19 points and 16 rebounds. ‘‘That’s all I care about.’’

Leonard, who briefly left the game early in the second half complaining of back pain, also showed some toughness in weathering a shot to the mouth, an elbow to the neck and a hip to the back.

Trailing 58-56 with two minutes left, the Illini (11-1) escaped on the strength of three clutch jumpers — two by Brandon Paul (15 points) and a third by D.J. Richardson
(17 points).

‘‘We found a way to win,’’ Paul said. ‘‘We grinded it out. We’re not content with the way we played, but we won the game.’’

Illinois, which really hasn’t played well since defeating Gonzaga on Dec. 3, figures to have a Tiger by the tail when it plays No. 9 Missouri on Thursday in St. Louis.

‘‘If we come out like we came out today, the game’s going to be over before we know it,’’ Paul said.

Coach Bruce Weber agreed.

‘‘At the end, we did find a way to win,’’ he said. ‘‘That was huge. But if we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night. We have to play a little looser, be aggressive and be sharper.’’

The Illini’s offense remains a work in progress that too often was flustered by Cornell (4-5).

‘‘We had some bad possessions where we stood around,’’ Weber said. ‘‘Some of it was: ‘Are they zone? Are they man? How are we going to attack it?’ I want to get it to Meyers, but you can’t just walk down and throw it to him. You have to move, get it side-to-side, then get it to him and play off of him.’’

For all their recent troubles, the players know the game against Missouri is a great opportunity.

‘‘We’re going to have a tough one on Thursday,’’ Leonard said. ‘‘We’re the underdog. We’re going to come out and fight. It would be a big win if we can get it.’’


Most everyone around Illinois basketball saw Monday’s game against the Cornell of the Ivy League as a bounce back contest.

The Fighting Illini, still rated No. 25 in the latest Associated Press poll, were coming off their first loss of the season 64-48 to UNLV, and the Big Red were 4-4 after overtime victories against Lehigh and Albany.

But things didn’t go the way that Illinois had hoped. Instead, the Fighting Illini had to claw and fight to pull out a 64-60 victory before 13,578 at the Assembly Hall.

“No, I think we could have had a better game today,” said Illinois junior guard D.J. Richardson, who had 17 points, 11 in the second half. “We are happy to get the win, but we still have to work on some things to get better.

“We need to get more from the bench. We can’t take any steps backward, we need to keep going forward.”

Actually, since starting the season with eight straight victories, including wins at Maryland and against nationally-ranked Gonzaga, the momentum of Illinois basketball has been slipping. Close wins over St. Bonaventure, Coppin State and Cornell, sandwiched around the loss to UNLV in Chicago has many people wondering what is wrong in Illini nation.

“In the first half, they had us on the Matto, play-hard chart,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We finally picked up the intensity. We did a better job defending, getting loose balls, steals and deflections. When we took lead on the Matto, we won the game.

“At the end, we found a way to win. They weren’t going to back down. If we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night. Hopefully, we play a little looser, be a little more aggressive and be a little sharper.”

The biggest problems for the Illini (11-1) have been consistency on the offensive end and finding production from its bench, which features two sophomore and six freshmen.

Illinois has made just 38 percent of its shots (86-of-225) in the past four games, the Illini have committed 52 turnovers in those contests and the bench, which was held scoreless on Monday night, has contributed just 13 points on 5-of-36 shooting (14 percent).

“We are not very fluid offensively,” Weber said. “ In the first half, we had some good possessions of attacking the zone.

“But, our young guys off the bench are not very sure of what they are doing yet and they don’t know what to look for.”

Illinois’ 7-foot-1 sophomore center Meyers Leonard scored a team-high 19 points, but he was held to four points on 2-of-3 shooting in the second half.

“I want to get Meyers the ball, but you can’t walk down and throw it to him,” Weber said. “ You have to move, get it side-to-side and then get it to him.

“His 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks probably saved us.”

Leonard said that Cornell (4-5) keyed in on him a little more as the game progressed.

“When they went man, you would figure that I would get some more shots up,” Leonard said. “But the fact that we got the win is all that matters.

“I probably need to get more shot attempts in the second half, regardless, we got the win.”

His 16 rebounds, four offensive and 12 defensive, was a new career high for the sophomore from Robinson.

“Meyers had a big, great game for us tonight,” said Richardson “We have that type of team where anyone can step up and be the key player.

“Meyers had a big double-double, we need him to stay consistent.”

Cornell, which had the lead for 15 minutes and 38 seconds in the second half, made just one of its final five shots, while Illinois were 3-of-3 during that stretch.

“We had some opportunities in the game,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “When you come into a hostile environment like this in a Big Ten arena, and you have an opportunity to win, you have to take advantage of it. We didn’t necessarily do that.

“Illinois has some big-time players and they made big-time plays down the stretch. I thought Illinois did that tonight.”

The Illini will need a lot more of those plays on Thursday when they travel to St. Louis for the annual Braggin’ Rights contest against the Missouri Tigers.

“We have to play better against Missouri, there is no doubt,” Richardson said. “We have to get better bench production and consistency from the other guys.”

Tipoff from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is set for 8 p.m. The game is being televised by ESPN2 and it can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490 and WDNL-FM 102.1.


No. 24 Illinois may still be reeling from its disappointing loss to UNLV this weekend at the United Center in Chicago because the Illini certainly weren't expected to have so much trouble vs. Cornell on Monday night. The Big Red took Illinois down to the wire at Assembly Hall, but a big game from sophomore center Meyers Leonard fueled the Illini to a 64-60 victory.

Cornell simply doesn't have anyone with Leonard's size and athleticism, and the Illini big man made them pay for it. Leonard continued his strong season with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks, all game highs. Junior guads D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul also shined. Richardson finished with 17 points and three assists, while Paul added 15 points and four rebounds. No bench players scored for the Illini.

Cornell was led by forward Josh Figini, who scored 14 points. Guard Chris Wroblewski (10 points) was the Big Red's only other scorer in double-figures.


With all due respect to Keyshawn Johnson, the flamboyant former NFL wide receiver, maybe Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard should make it clear and say: “Just give me the damn ball.”

That’s the title of the book on Johnson, so it’s not the first time a guy in a uniform wanted the leather. Leonard had 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots in the surprisingly close 64-60 win over Cornell Monday in a non-conference basketball game, but it was apparent.

The Illini need to get him the ball more. When the Illini run offense through Leonard, it changes the game. Now it’s a matter of learning how to do it, because he was 9 of 11 from the floor.

“Be patient, wait for good things to happen and get Meyers touches, then play off that,” Illini coach Bruce Weber said.

Leonard attempted only three shots in the second half, when he left briefly after a hip check to the back, but the Illini didn’t take advantage of the biggest man on the floor.

“The fact that we got the win is all that matters,” Leonard said. “That’s all I care about. I probably needed to get more shots in the second half, but the win is all that matters.”

UNLV had the athleticism to disrupt the Illini in a 16-point win in Chicago Saturday, but Cornell had no advantage is size or quickness.

“I’ve got to remind myself to stay in the paint and be physical,” Leonard said. “It goes both ways. I’ve got be more aggressive and try to dominate the game.”

Midway through the second half, Leonard left the game briefly after a hip check to the back.

“It felt like a razor blade,” he said.

– There probably comes a point when the “win-is-a-win” thing doesn’t stand up. The Illini are getting close to it, if not already past the point of no return. They’ve found a way to win, as they say, against an inferior schedule in the non-conference season, but it’s going to get tougher on Thursday and beyond.

“We’ve got to play better against Missouri, there’s no doubt,” Weber said. “If we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night.”

– This was no way to calm the nervousness after the Illini were booed out of the gym at the United Center Saturday, when UNLV put the first bruise on the Illini record with a 16-pointer that left some folks looking for the life raft.

The Illini were 1 of 13 from the field to start the second half against Cornell.

They needed an 8-0 run in the final minute or so to win a game against the team picked sixth in the eight-team Ivy League.

It gets much harder against Missouri, the ninth-ranked team in the country who played small ball after the season-ending knee injury to power forward Laurence Bowers. So the real advantage for the Illini is Leonard.

“We’ve got to get (Leonard) touches,” Weber said. “Missouri is very guard oriented. The four-man got hurt. Out for the year. They just said, ‘Hey we’re going small ball. We’re going to see what happens.’ It’s been very effective.”

– The Illini will need depth against aggressive Mizzou. That will force Weber to use the bench, which was outscored 16-0 against Cornell. The hype of depth hasn’t met reality.

– The Illini will need depth against aggressive Mizzou. That will force Weber to use the bench, who was outscored 16-0 against Cornell.

Illini Find A Way To Overcome Cornell At End
Scout.com

The Fighting Illini pulled out a 64-60 victory over Cornell Monday night, but the win did nothing to restore confidence in a team that is clearly struggling at the moment. The Illini are becoming the gang that couldn't shoot straight, needing a late rally to overcome a second straight ineffective shooting night. The upperclassmen came through down the stretch to prevent another loss.

The Fighting Illini rallied to escape with a win against a scrappy, determined opponent. But Illinois coach Bruce Weber sounded almost apologetic about it afterward.

"You get a win. It's very gritty down the stretch. We found a way. I thought the last stretch of the game we played much harder.

"First half, they had us on the MATTO play-hard chart. We finally picked up the intensity and did a better job defending, getting loose balls, steals and deflections. When we took the lead on the MATTO, we won the game."

The Illini broke out to a quick 10-3 lead, and it looked like a route was on. But Cornell started raining threes, pulling out to a 23-14 advantage. The Illini rallied to produce a tie at halftime, but there was no joy in Mudville.

"We're not very fluid offensively. I thought the first half, we had some good possessions attacking the zone. Our young guys coming off the bench are not very sure what they're doing yet and don't know what to look for. Against man, we have to get some movement. We had some standing around.

"I think we're at a point where we're thinking too much. Just be patient, move the ball and wait for good things to happen."

Cornell regained a second half lead, forcing the Illini to play from behind. Each time the Illini tied the game, the Big Red went back in front. It looked like another loss for the home team until upperclassmen took over.

Brandon Paul hit a three and a dribble-drive jumper, D.J. Richardson hit a jumper, and Sam Maniscalco, who had six assists without a turnover, made two free throws to reverse a two point deficit and gain a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"At the end we did find a way to win. It was huge. They weren't gonna back down. Any time you get a team with local players that come here with all their family and friends, they're gonna play at a high level. They made some plays and put some heat on us. To our credit, we didn't fold. We grinded it out and found a way to win."

Part of the problem may have been residual self-doubt from the UNLV game two days previously. The Illini needed a good dose of confidence after that debacle, but Cornell began to remind of the previous failure. The result was predictable according to Weber.

"I think once Cornell started making shots, we definitely got tight. They got the lead, the crowd is dead silent, all of a sudden we're tight."

Fortunately, the Illini got big second halves from Paul and Richardson, and they got an outstanding game from Meyers Leonard. Paul scored all but two of his 15 points in the second half while adding three assists and four rebounds. He came through when needed but knows the Illini need to play better.

"We found a way to win. We grinded it out. Obviously, we're not content with the way we played. We've got to get back to practice and work on things. We didn't come out with as much fire as we wanted to, but we won the game. We've still got to get better."

Richardson continues to be the most consistent Illini. He hit 5 of 10 three point shots on his way to a 17 point effort. He also dished out 3 assists and provided necessary leadership. He said the Illini crowd came through for them despite times when boos might have replaced cheers.

"We've got to thank the crowd. They stuck with us to the end. The crowd was a big key tonight. They helped us out with the energy, and then Brandon and the upperclassmen made some big shots for us."

Weber is proud of the Peoria junior.

"He's been very confident and has been our most consistent guy. He's been very focused. I think he went so hard he was cramping at the end and had a headache. He's been our leader, our most consistent guy, our most focused guy. He's grown up a lot."

Leonard had to leave the game briefly in the second half after a hip to his back. He said he also was hit in the mouth and elbowed in the neck as teams continue to use physical means to limit his production. Despite that, he almost had a double-double by halftime, coming one rebound short. Weber knows his prodigy can still make major improvements, but he realizes Leonard was key to the win.

"Obviously he had a good night. I think he got a little tired at the end of the first half. He's got to be more competent defensively. He needs to get out on people; he's mobile enough, he can guard people.

"I think he's a little tentative on the defensive end, not around the basket but out on the court. People are isoing him, picking-and-popping and doing some things where he has to make some decisions. He's got to get better there. But 19 and 16 and three blocks obviously saved us."

Cornell coach Bill Courtney knew his team had a chance to win and was disappointed it couldn't finish. But he also knew who to credit from the winning team.

"You've got to give those guys a lot of credit, in particular Leonard, Richardson and Paul. They're big-time players, and they made big-time plays down the stretch. That's what good teams do, they find a way to win. I thought Illinois did that tonight. But I was definitely proud of the way our guys fought tonight."

The Illini again received minimal production from their bench except for the energy and defensive play of Tracy Abrams. But no bench player scored. Weber needs more help than he's getting.

"They've got to give us energy; don't worry about scoring. Just give us energy. They don't have to make a play. It would help if the other guys would play well while they're in.

"Have a better concept of the offense, when to look for someone, when to score. They all get stagnant and don't know what to do. They've got to be big for us. They've got to give us something. They probably need to go home for the holidays and get away from it, come back with a fresh thought."

The Illinii must make a big leap in the next couple days. Otherwise, Missouri may run them out of the gym at the Bragging Rights game Thursday.

"We found a way to respond, but if we play this way against Missouri, it could be a long night for us," Weber understates. "We're gonna have to hopefully play a little looser, be aggressive and be a little sharper."


You never know what will happen from game to game and teams don't always repeat performances from one game to the next.

I saw a little of UNLV's victory over North Carolina. They looked sensational. Then they looked like another team entirely when they got clobbered by Wichita State. Then they looked terrific again last Saturday when they breezed past the Illini.

Illinois looked pretty good the day it beat Gonzaga, then looked awful against UNLV and not much better Monday night in a 64-65 victory over a Cornell team that is 4-5, undersized and marginally athletic. It shouldn't have been the struggle that it was.

Which, of course, raises questions about Thursday night's Braggin' Rights game against unbeaten and 9th-ranked Missouri.

If Illinois duplicates the offensive performance it showed against UNLV, it's going to be a long, long night in St. Louis.

If Illinois stands around on offense and misses open shots when they're there and struggles to get the ball efficiently into Meyers Leonard, Illinois will probably be in for a world of hurt. But it's not just offense. I don't think Illinois has played very well - or very hard - on defense the last couple of games. I do think Illinois cranked up the defensive intensity late against Cornell and that's one reason they dodged the upset.

But things are not trending in an encouraging direction.

A team that is supposed to have depth as an asset got no points from the bench Monday. And a team that is supposed to raise hell on defense failed to close out on Cornell's 3-point shooters, then got beat off the dribble a few times on drives to the basket.

Sam Maniscalco is in a shooting slump (1 for 7 Monday) and the bench went a combined 0-for-10 shooting the ball.

Meyers Leonard (19 points, career-high 16 rebounds), D.J. Richardson (17 points) and Brandon Paul (13 of his 15 points in the second half) carried nearly all of the load on Monday and will need more help than they're getting against Mizzou. Leonard, Richardson and Paul combined for 28 of Illinois; 32 second-half points.

Missouri is playing four guards and has been among the highest scoring teams in the country.

I'm not optimistic that Illinois can stay within double-digits. That's just my opinion, and, as I said, teams don't always deliver the expected performance. Maybe Illinois comes out and forces turnovers on defense. Maybe they find a way to exploit Leonard on the inside. Maybe a star is born (Myke Henry?) Weber said Henry might be in line for more playing time, but we'll see. Maybe Tyler Griffey waves hello to his family and friends from the St. Louis area and knocks down four 3-pointers.

Maybe.

I'd believe all of that if Illinois had played well and defeated UNLV. And I'd feel more confident if Illinois had swatted aside Cornell with less drama.

This Illini team is 11-1. Is it me, or does it feel more like 7-5?


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Cornell's hot perimeter shooting and pesky zone defense almost helped the Big Red pull off a huge upset of Illinois.

The Big Red had the Illini playing catch up for most of the game, with the two teams exchanging leads until the final minute. D.J. Richardson's pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left helped No. 25 Illinois to a 64-60 victory Monday night.

"I thought our kids really played hard," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "We had some opportunities in the game, and whenever you come in to a hostile Big Ten environment and have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them."

Meyers Leonard had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, overcoming a back injury to lead the Illini.

After trailing for the most of the game, Illinois (11-1) was sparked by Richardson's nine points in the second half and narrowly avoided its second consecutive loss.

"We were gritty down the stretch and found a way to win," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "The last stretch of the game I thought we played harder. Finally, we picked up the intensity and did a better job defending."

Josh Figini scored all 14 of his points in the first half to lead Cornell (4-4). The forward sat out the last seven minutes of the half after picking up two fouls and was limited the rest of the game.

Illinois opened the second half 1-for-13 from the field and fell behind 42-36, then put together a 14-6 run to regain the lead. The teams exchanged leads until the final minute, when Richardson hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to put Illinois ahead 62-58.

Cornell hit six 3-pointers, including three by Figini, to jump out to a 24-14 lead. Led by several baskets from Leonard, Illinois tied the score at 32 by halftime.

Leonard's big first half -- 15 points and nine rebounds -- allowed Illinois to stay in the game as it struggled with its outside shooting against Cornell's zone defense.

It looked as if the Illini might have been without their starting center when Leonard went to the locker room five minutes into the second half after getting hit in the back. But he returned a few minutes later, still grimacing as he checked back into the game.

Richardson, the team's leading scorer, scored 17 points, 11 in the second half.

"He's been our leader and most consistent guy," Weber said. "He's grown up a lot. He had a great freshman year, a very average at best sophomore year and he's learned from it."

Cornell's Chris Wroblewski, who grew up in Highland Park, Ill., scored 10 points and had six rebounds.

Illinois outrebounded Cornell 42-25 and had 13 offensive rebounds. There were eight lead changes and the score was tied nine times.

Monday's late result

CORNELL (4-5) Miller 3-4 0-0 6, Figini 4-11 3-3 14, Cancer 2-7 1-2 5, Wroblewski 4-13 0-2 10, Ferry 3-10 0-0 9, Groebe 1-2 0-0 3, Gray 3-5 0-1 7, D. Cherry 0-1 0-0 0, Tarwater 0-0 2-3 2, Chemerinski 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 22-56 6-11 60.

ILLINOIS (11-1) Griffey 4-8 0-0 8, Leonard 9-11 1-2 19, Maniscalco 1-7 2-2 5, Richardson 6-13 0-0 17, Paul 4-8 6-7 15, Bertrand 0-1 0-0 0, Head 0-1 0-0 0, Abrams 0-2 0-1 0, Shaw 0-3 0-0 0, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Djimde 0-1 0-1 0, Egwu 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-57 9-13 64.

Halftime: Tied 32-32. 3-Point Goals: Cornell 10-23 (Figini 3-3, Ferry 3-9, Wroblewski 2-7, Groebe 1-2, Gray 1-2), Illinois 7-21 (Richardson 5-10, Paul 1-3, Maniscalco 1-5, Henry 0-1, Shaw 0-1, Griffey 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Cornell 25 (Wroblewski 6), Illinois 42 (Leonard 16). Assists: Cornell 12 (Cancer, Wroblewski 4), Illinois 17 (Maniscalco 6). Total Fouls: Cornell 16, Illinois 15. A: 13,578.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

They better sort themselves out and defeat Penn St. and Maryland. Those missed shots in the second half were just embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

It's a young team. They'll learn how to close out games soon.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Cancer's penetration.