Coppin St.-Illinois Preview

Just over a week ago, Illinois coach Bruce Weber wondered what

it would take for his squad to be recognized nationally after a

home upset of Gonzaga.

During a lackluster performance against an underwhelming

opponent, it took a late rally simply to avoid embarrassment in its

most recent contest.

The 24th-ranked Fighting Illini look for an improved effort

while seeking to remain unbeaten as they host Coppin State on

Sunday night.

Off to their best start since opening 15-0 in the 2005-06

season, the Illini haven’t been very impressive outside of their

82-75 win over then-No. 19 Gonzaga on Dec. 3.

The Illini are shooting 45.8 percent – 94th nationally – against

a relatively weak non-conference schedule that featured four mid-

and low-major in-state rivals with a combined six wins over

Division I competition.

Illinois shot 31.9 percent in Wednesday’s 48-43 win over St.

Bonaventure, which marked its worst shooting performance in a

non-conference game since 1996.

”We shot way too many 3s early,” said Weber, whose team went 7

for 26 from 3-point range.

The Illini also were outrebounded 36-26 and trailed 39-30 with

5:22 remaining before ending the game with an 18-4 run. Brandon

Paul scored 12 of his 17 points in the final four minutes, and D.J.

Richardson added 11.

”I think I was just more focused,” Paul said. ”Meyers

(Leonard) did a good job of getting me open. Their ball-screen

defense wasn’t as effective (late).”

Leonard was coming off a 21-point performance against Gonzaga in

which he shot 9 for 11, but St. Bonaventure held him in check. He

turned the ball over a season-high five times and attempted only

three shots – all makes – plus 3 of 5 free throws to finish with

nine points.

Leonard had averaged 15.2 points while shooting 60.4 percent

over his previous five games.

Moving past the ugly win, the Illini should be able to extend

their 24-game non-conference home winning streak versus Coppin

State.

The Eagles (3-4) have yet to beat a Division I opponent, but

they’ve won two straight against NAIA competition – 77-68 over West

Virgina Tech on Dec. 8, and 53-50 over Rio Grande on Monday.

A trip to Illinois likely won’t intimidate Coppin State, playing

its annual demanding non-conference road schedule under coach Ron

“Fang” Mitchell.

The Eagles fell 92-65 at Oklahoma on Nov. 18, then lost 87-70 at

defending national champion Connecticut two days later. They were

also defeated 78-57 at Purdue on Nov. 26.

Coppin State, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

and located in Baltimore, is led by senior guard Tony Gallo, who

scored a team-high 15 points against Rio Grande.

Gallo, who is averaging 17.7 points, scored 22 against Oklahoma

and 21 versus UConn.

Coppin State has lost its last 37 games against ranked opponents

– all on the road – since its 78-65 upset of No. 2 seed and

sixth-ranked South Carolina in the first round of the 1997 NCAA

tournament.

Illinois has won the previous three meetings, including a 61-42

victory in the most recent matchup Dec. 18, 2005.