It wasn't Demetri McCamey's efficient 17 points that made Thursday's 71-62 victory over Minnesota a bounce-back performance for the senior point guard.
What the Illinois players and coaches saw change in McCamey was his effort level.
Added coach Bruce Weber, "He played so hard he cramped."
Benched for the start of the Minnesota game along with center Mike Tisdale and wing Jereme Richmond, McCamey took a step toward earning his way back into Weber's good graces by making hustle plays all over the court. He limped through cramps, he dove after loose balls and he chased down long rebounds.
The performance was a critical one for McCamey considering how poorly he'd played in Illinois' previous six games. Not only had he shot a paltry 29.0 percent from the floor during that stretch, he also allowed his offensive woes to impact his defense and his effort level.
Weber decided to shake up his lineup on Thursday because the Illini (16-8, 6-5) needed a jolt to awaken them from a midseason lull that had sent them tumbling toward the bubble.
Entering the Minnesota matchup, underachieving Illinois had fallen to 5-5 in conference play as a result of four consecutive road losses including setbacks at lower-division Indiana and Northwestern. Therefore, the trip to fellow NCAA tournament hopeful Minnesota became a crossroads game for an Illinois team hoping to avoid being banished to the NIT for a second straight year.
If McCamey's play is truly a barometer for Illinois' success as the past few weeks suggest, then it's critical that the effort he displayed Thursday night continues the rest of the season.
- Demetri McCamey