CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Nick Smith called Illinois coach Bruce
Weber's recent chair-throwing tirade a reminder. It worked.
Four days after Weber's tantrum, Smith scored a career-high 22
points without missing a shot Wednesday night and Illinois (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP)
opened its Big Ten season with an 85-63 victory over Ohio State.
"Just my night, I guess," Smith said. "Starting off making
that 3 didn't hurt and then knocking down all my free throws. I
don't know, just one of those nights."
Smith, a 7-foot-2 center, was 6-for-6 from the field, including
the one 3-pointer, and went 9-for-9 from the free throw line. He
grabbed nine rebounds, also a career high for the junior.
Smith bore the brunt of Weber's halftime anger in last
Saturday's 80-73 overtime scare against Illinois State. He
responded with 10 points in the second half of that game.
"He gives me reminders every once in a while because I tend to
slack off and get lazy," Smith said. "It was just a reminder and
I've had a couple good games since."
Illinois pressured Ohio State from the opening tip and held the
Buckeyes to only six field goals in the first half. OSU went
through a 7:39 stretch of the first half without a basket.
"The issue tonight was defensive pressure they put on us that
we were not able to deal with," Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien said.
"We were not strong enough or tough enough to deal with their
Terrance Dials had 11 points for Ohio State (8-6, 0-1), while
Tony Stockman added 10. The Buckeyes never recovered from a first
half in which they went 6-of-21 from the field.
"We thought we could disrupt them," Weber said. "We thought
if we trapped them, pressured them, got them out further, made them
do some things they don't want to do, we thought it would cause
The Illini outscored the Buckeyes 30-8 over a 12-minute span of
the first half to go up 37-13. Ohio State went on a 27-14 run
starting late in the half and trimmed the Illini lead to 53-42 with
12:47 to go in the game.
But McBride's 3-pointer started a 9-0 run that put the Illini up
62-42 with 9:51 remaining. Ohio State never got closer than 17
O'Brien says his team is struggling to find a leader.
"We have nobody who will take charge of our team," he said.
Weber said Smith's play lately brings "a totally different
dimension" to the Illini.
"He's playing very determined. He was motivated tonight and
hopefully we can keep that going," Weber said.
Illinois played without starter Luther Head, who was arrested by
Champaign police Tuesday for driving with a suspended license. His
status for Saturday's game against Purdue was unclear, Weber said.
"I'm disappointed with the whole situation," he said. "I feel
bad for him and for the whole team."