CHICAGO (AP)—Dee Brown and James Augustine weren’t about to let their last game at the United Center be a loss.
The two seniors scored 43 of Illinois’ 65 points Saturday in leading the No. 12 Illini to a 65-62 win over Xavier and their 15th consecutive victory at their “home away from home” in Chicago. They had to rebound from a sluggish start and an early 15-point deficit.
“The fans here, we want to come out and play well for them,” said Augustine, who tied his career high with 23 points. “We ended our career here at the United Center pretty well.”
Brown scored 20 points and ignited a 15-4 run at the start of the second half that turned what could have been a rout into a close game.
“I ended my high school career here with a loss,” said Brown, who played at Proviso East in suburban Maywood. “It’s good to play here and continue to win. I love playing at the United Center.”
Brown was only 1-for-5 before halftime, but he started Illinois’ second-half charge with a pair of 3-pointers.
“The first eight minutes of the second half, their pressure and their attacking style of defense really took us out of who we were for the first 20 minutes of the game,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “We came unraveled, and that’s because of Illinois.”
But after Augustine’s 3-point play gave Illinois its first lead at 41-40 with 12:31 to go, the Musketeers (3-1) rolled off six straight points and looked as if they were in control again.
But the Illini (7-0) battled back with some free throws and Rich McBride’s 3-point shot gave them a 51-50 lead before Brian Thornton hit a hook shot and a free throw to put the Musketeers ahead again.
That’s when Marcus Arnold came off the Illinois bench. He tipped in a rebound that tied the game at 53 and gave the Illini the lead for good with a turnaround jumper and free throw, all within 33 seconds.
“He’s been huge for us,” said Augustine. “He got his rebounds. He got a couple put-backs, he played well on defense. He did exactly what coach wanted him to do and, I think, played a perfect game right off the bench.”
Arnold’s outburst was all Illinois needed and it built a 62-55 lead before Xavier gave it one final push with a 7-2 run that cut it the Illini lead to 64-62. He finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Justin Cage led the Musketeers with 15 points. Justin Doellman scored 12 and Stanley Burrell had 11. Thornton, Xavier’s leading scorer with about 20 points per game, finished with nine.
The start of the game did not go well for Illinois, playing its first day game of the season. They turned the ball over on their first two possessions and missed their first nine shots. The Musketeers hit five of their first eight to build a 12-0 lead.
“We just weren’t ready to go,” coach Bruce Weber said. “I think we ran six or seven plays in the first half where somebody screwed it up.”
The Illinois offense was stagnant with Brown, McBride and Randle content to pass the ball around the perimeter. They wouldn’t penetrate and were stymied by Xavier nearly every time they tried to pass inside.
Xavier built a 19-4 lead and led 36-26 at halftime.
But Brown’s 3-pointers and quick fouls by Thornton and Doellman started Xavier’s undoing. Thornton fouled out with 5:10 to go and three other players finished the game with four fouls.
“They are bigger than you realize,” Miller said. “When our guys got in foul trouble, they weren’t as aggressive close to the basket.”
And Illinois finally started sending the ball into the paint. Augustine scored 15 points after halftime and when he or another big guy didn’t have the shot, they kicked it back to Brown, who scored 14 second-half points and finished with five rebounds and seven assists.
“I think once we just calmed down and started getting it inside to the big fella, and started to get some stops, I think that’s when our game started picking up,” Brown said.