9:00 PM ET, January 7, 2004
State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois
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.Dee Brown scored 16 points for Illinois, which ran its Assembly Hall record to 43-1 over the past four seasons. Richard McBride and Roger Powell each scored 11 points for the Illini (10-2).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 defensive pressure."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 some problems."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 points.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."