INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Illinois knows it will need a much better
game on Saturday to advance to the NCAA regional semifinals.
The top-seeded and top-ranked Illini were beaten on the glass
and had to battle through a sub-par first half before a 14-2 run at
the start of the second propelled them to a 67-55 victory over
Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday night.
Even an Illinois-partisan crowd in the RCA Dome didn't seem to
"The way we played defense, the way they outrebounded us, it
was kind of embarrassing and the crowd that wasn't wearing orange
was celebrating," said Dee Brown, who led Illinois (33-1) with 19
points. "You expect that. We just were not playing good
And the 16th-seeded Knights (23-10) were before halftime. They
outscored the Illini 20-10 inside and came from seven points down
to take a brief lead in the first half. Mensah Peterson's
buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the half left Illinois with the
slimmest of leads, 32-31.
"I think we were 27-point underdogs," Peterson said. "That
wasn't happening tonight."
Illinois survives to face Nevada, a 61-57 winner over Texas, in
the second round, with the winner advancing to the Chicago Regional
semifinals next Thursday in Rosemont, Ill.
"That was very uncharacteristic of our team," said Roger
Powell Jr., a licensed minister. "Thank God, we got it out of our
"We talked about attitude and being ready to play and
breakdowns," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said of his halftime
speech. "Sometimes I forget that it's such a long day, maybe there
were a little nerves. We were trying to do too much, too fast."
The Illini responded by scoring 22 of the fist 30 second-half
points to take a 52-39 lead with 7:51 to go.
Brown started the run with a three-point play. Then Head dropped
a 3, Brown kissed one off the top of the glass and got a nice feed
from Head for a layup and drained a 3-pointer of his own that put
the Illini ahead 46-33.
"In the second half, we were much more active, we were on our
toes, we were aggressive and we rebounded, too," Weber said. "We
went into transition and that was probably the difference in the
Gordon Klaiber scored 24 points and eight rebounds to lead
Fairleigh Dickinson, which was making its fourth NCAA appearance in
coach Tom Green's 22 seasons. Tamien Trent scored 11 and 7-footer
Andrea Crosariol had three blocked shots and eight rebounds.
The Knights had been promising all week they would make Illinois
work and they were true to their word.
They converted three offensive rebounds and a steal into points
to erase an early 17-10 deficit and grabbed a 20-19 lead with 7:30
to go in the first half. Then after the Illini dropped three
consecutive 3-pointers and took a 30-20 lead, the Knights outscored
them 11-2 the final 4 minutes of the half.
"I think we earned the rest of the country's respect,"
Peterson said. "But a loss is a loss and we really wanted to make
Illinois orange dominated the RCA Dome crowd of 26,804 and
Illini fans started cheering when the pep band arrived during the
Texas-Nevada game. Fairleigh Dickinson averaged only 1,239 fans per
home game this season and had only a few hundred faithful in the
stands, but they won over several neutral spectators and were
getting plenty of noise as they made Illinois earn its win.