(16) Fair Dickinson 55

(20-13, 13-5 NEC)

(1) Illinois 67

(33-1, 15-1 Big Ten)

    9:30 PM ET, March 17, 2005

    1 2 T
    #16FDU 31 2455
    #1ILL 32 3567

    Top Performers

    Fairleigh Dickinson: G. Klaiber 24 Pts, 8 Reb, 2 Stl

    Illinois: D. Brown 19 Pts, 1 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl

    FDU's lead short-lived; Illini roll in second half

    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 help much.

    "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 basketball."

    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 system now."

    Luther Head added 13 points for Illinois, while James Augustine grabbed 15 rebounds to go with 11 points. FDU won the overall rebounding battle 42-30.

    "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 game."

    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 history tonight."

    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.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 55 67
    FG Made-Attempted 23-57 (.404) 23-54 (.426)
    3P Made-Attempted 4-16 (.250) 6-21 (.286)
    FT Made-Attempted 5-11 (.455) 15-21 (.714)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 19 (0/0) 13 (0/0)
    Largest Lead 1 19


    » Mar 17, 2005 @ILL 67, FDU 55Recap