CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was pleased how his team responded to an emotional game.
Demetri McCamey had 18 points and nine assists and D.J. Richardson added 16 points as No. 13 Illinois beat Weber’s former team—Southern Illinois—85-63 on Saturday night.
It was the first time that he had faced his former team since joining the Illini in 2003. Weber was the head coach at Southern Illinois from 1999-2003 and led the Salukis to consecutive Missouri Valley Championships and NCAA tournament appearances in 2002 and 2003.
“Obviously its an emotional game for myself, our staff,” Weber said. “I thought our kids responded.”
The Illini (3-0) led 41-30 at halftime and opened the second half with a 19-4 run to pull away.
Richardson finished 4 for 5 from 3-point range. After struggling offensively in Illinois’ first two games—scoring just 11 points—he’s starting to feel like he is back in a rhythm.
“I had to get back in my comfort zone,” Richardson said. “The first couples game I just couldn’t make any shots. I’m just happy to be back out there.”
Carlton Fay led Southern Illinois (0-1) with 13 points and five rebounds.
Richardson hit a 3-pointer—one of four he made in the first half—just 31 seconds into the game to put the Illini on top. Fay quickly answered with a jumper—the first of six straight points he scored for the Salukis.
Southern Illinois cut their deficit to one with 13:56 to play after Mykel Cleveland scored on a fast break layup. Richardson then hit his second 3-pointer to extend Illinois’ lead to 18-14.
Troy Long’s 3-pointer with 11:51 to play in the first half cut Illinois’ lead to 22-20. It stayed that way until McCamey was fouled on a drive to the basket with 8:54 to play. McCamey made the layup and the free throw to put Illinois up by five.
A double team by Meyers Leonard and Richardson forced a Saluki turnover, and the Illini capitalized with a jumper by Mike Davis that pushed Illinois’ lead to 27-20 with 8:15 to play.
With 4:51 remaining in the first half, Richardson hit his fourth 3-pointer to put Illinois up by 10, but Southern Illinois’ Long answered immediately with another 3-pointer.
McCamey opened the second half with a 3 that started Illinois’ 19-4 run and the Illini pulled away taking a 71-42 lead with 8:22 remaining in the game.
“One of the things we weren’t very good about last year was extending leads, playing with leads,” Weber said. “I thought at the end of the first half and into the second half we were really staring to make some progress in that.”
Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery said Illinois’ fast-break offense was just too much for his team to handle.
“We knew how good they were,” Lowery said. “I’ve been saying it all week: In transition, they’re like the Lakers.”