Illinois 75, Kent St. 58
Illinois used a big second-half run to beat Kent State 75-58 on Monday night and advance to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
With the game tied at 31 at halftime, Illinois (20-14) went on an 18-7 run out of the break to take control. Illinois hosts Dayton on Wednesday after the Flyers topped Cincinnati 81-66.
``The first half we started a little sluggish, but we got going,'' forward Mike Davis said. ``The second half, we were pretty lights out and shot well.''
After a back-and-forth first half featuring nine lead changes, Illinois came out on the offensive behind Demetri McCamey. The junior guard took charge on the court leading an 8-0 run in the first five minutes after the half. During that stretch, the Golden Flashes went 0 for 5 from the field with three turnovers.
McCamey finished with 15 points and 10 assists and became the first in Illinois history to record more than 1,200 points and 500 assists in only three seasons.
Illinois had been riding a three-game home losing streak which they were determined to break against Kent State.
``Coach Weber said that we feel like we let our fans down losing three in a row against top teams,'' McCamey said. ``We should still not lose on our home court especially when you have a great crowd like we have. We just wanted to go out and play for the crowd tonight and come out with a win.''
For a team that relies on its outside shooting, Illinois pounded the ball inside to score 40 of its points in the paint. Davis had 16 points and 16 rebounds for his 15th double-double this season, while Mike Tisdale had 17 points.
Kent State (24-9) hurt itself at the free-throw line, converting only 10 of 18 attempts for a paltry 55.6 percent while shooting 38.9 percent from the field.
``We couldn't finish at the rim,'' Kent State coach Geno Ford said. ``That was a big problem for us. We really blew some chances.''
The Illini allowed only three second-chance points.
Justin Greene led the Golden Flashes with 15 points, while Anthony Simpson provided a spark off the bench with 14 points.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber acknowledged that not getting into the NCAA tournament still hurts, but that the focus becomes getting to Madison Square Garden and winning the NIT.
``I told them today at the shootaround, I said this is important,'' Weber said. ``It's important for our program. It's important for our progress as a team to make something special.
``If you're angry, come out and leave your anger on the court and do something about it.''