Loss to Boilers hurts the NCAA hopes.
One step forward Thursday, one big step back Sunday.
After regaining some momentum and hope for the postseason with a victory at Minnesota, the Illinois basketball team gave it all back at Assembly Hall. Leading by five points heading into the second half, the Illini watched as Purdue raced past in a blur of elbows, hip checks, offensive rebounds and old-fashioned Big Ten Conference hoops.
The Boilermakers foudn another gear during an 81-70 victory that left the Illini emotionally deflated, especially a senior class desperately wanting to succeed in March.
"We play off you,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber told his seniors on Saturday. "You responded the other night. This is your team. See what you can do with it.''
Even if the Illini played hard enough to win, they weren't tough enough against the Boilermakers, who have the unique combination of talent and grit to remain in the top 15 despite the loss of forward Robbie Hummel to a season-ending knee injury.
Purdue owned the second half by grabbing a 28-11 advantage in rebounding and scoring 54 points. Purdue secured six offensive rebounds before the first TV timeout in the second half, and everyone in the Hall could feel this one slipping away, just like those NCAA Tournament hopes. Breaking a clipboard in the huddle didn't motivate anybody.
Senior Mike Davis and sophomores D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul played hard, Davis said, but there wasn't enough help from the rest of the Illini.
"It's got to be within,'' Davis said. "Me, D.J. and Brandon come out and play hard. Two others don't play hard. We can't control that.
"Coach got into us at halftime. We were winning. They were yelling and acted like we were down. We told ourselves to go out and play hard. A couple of us played hard. Three others didn't play hard. It's not going to work. Everybody's got to demand it of themselves.''
Illinois fell to 16-9 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten. The Illini could have helped themselves by sweeping the last four home games following the uplifting win at Minnesota, but the Illini fell back into the bubble talk before hosting Michigan (16-10, 6-7) Wednesday (7:30 p.m., BTN).
"I wish there was a little more fire in their belly,'' Weber said. "People call, email and say, 'I yell too much.' I try to sit and relax and not do that stuff. At Minnesota, I said I'm going to coach and be myself. Bust my butt to get them to play hard. I didn't care if I broke clipboards.
"Whatever you have to do get get going. It worked there. We didn't have enough mustard here.''
Paul led the Illini with 23 points. Davis had 16 points and seven rebounds. Richardson scored 13 points. Other than center Mike Tisdale's nine points, no other Illini scored more than four.
More importantly, the Illini were manhandled on the boards, getting only six offensive rebounds to Purdue's 16.
Guard Demetri McCamey finished with four points on 1-for-10 shooting. He also had four assists, three turnovers and five steals, but he wasn't a factor. Weber said outside influences ruined McCamey's strong start to the season, and McCamey hasn't been able to get it back in the right direction.
"I dont know if it's the pressure,'' Weber said. "It looks like he's got the weight of the world on his back. I feel bad for him. He's a better player than that. He was a better player two months ago, a better player last year when we played Purdue. Maybe we can get him snapped out of it before it's too late.''
Meanwhile, Purdue (20-5, 9-3) dissected the Illini in the second half with high ball screens, penetration from jet-quick guard Lewis Jackson, the former Decatur Eisenhower star, the unsung play of role players and big games from stars JaJuan Johnson (24 points, nine rebounds) and E'Twaun Moore (20 points, five rebounds).
The supporting cast -- D.J. Bryd, Ryne Smith, Kelsey Barlow, Terone Johnson, John Hart and Jackson -- accounted for 15 of the 16 offensive rebounds.
Purdue shot 53.1 percent in the second half and nearly matched the 84 points the Boilers scored here last season.
"I say things look a lot better when the ball goes in,'' said Purdue coach Matt Painter, "but our effort on the glass was probably the difference in the game.''
NOTES: After scoring 46 on the Matto chart at Minnesota, the Illini had just 25 against the Boilers. . . Purdue won for the third time in the last four games at Assembly Hall and pushed its winning streak to four games against the Illini. . . Paul wore an ice pack on his left ankle after the game. . .Illinois report card Front court -- C Mike Davis scored in the 20s, but the Illini didn't get the loose balls off the Purdue rim in the second half. And really, there was no answer for JaJuan Johnson, the Big Ten's best player. Back court -- D The Illini can't win a big game when Demetri McCamey is 1-for-10 from the field. If he's playhing like this, the Illini suffer through another NIT appearance. Bench -- D Brandon Paul was aggressive and forced the action, but there was virtually no other contributions from the bench. Jereme Richmond played one of his worst games in the Big Ten. Overall -- D The Illini just handed back all the goodwill they earned with the road win at Minnesota Thursday by losing at home on network TV. It's getting late in the season, and this looks more like last season than anyone in orange and blue wants to admit.