CHAMPAIGN — Illinois junior forward Mike Davis changed his mind about this National Invitation Tournament thing, then made an even bigger statement with 16 points and 16 rebounds in a 75-58 victory over Kent State in the second round Monday.
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois junior forward Mike Davis changed his mind about this National Invitation Tournament thing, then made an even bigger statement with 16 points and 16 rebounds in a 75-58 victory over Kent State in the second round Monday before an Assembly Hall crowd of 10,032.
Asked days before the game, Davis said he was still “dreading” the NIT and he would rather “go to the (NCAA) tournament and lose in the first round than go in the NIT and win it.”
That thought process is probably what most Illini fans had in mind on Selection Sunday. But Davis made his comments when the Illini were well into the NIT, and he found himself in coach Bruce Weber’s doghouse.
Davis responded with his 15th double-double of the season, then asked for a second chance in talking about the NIT.
“I said a couple of things I shouldn’t have said,” Davis admitted. “I just love to compete. I’d rather be in the NIT and keep playing, trying to win an NIT championship. Two teams end the season with a win. Hopefully, we’ll be one of them this season.”
Illinois ended a three-game home losing streak, improved to 21-14 overall and advanced to play Dayton at Assembly Hall on Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPN2). Dayton (22-12) won at Cincinnati 81-66 Monday.
Davis scored in double figures for the fourth consecutive game and hit double digits in rebounds for the seventh time in the last nine games.
“It wasn’t very intelligent what he said,” Weber said. “We weren’t very happy with it. The coaches told him, ‘You have to back it up.’ I told him today in shootaround, ‘This is important. It’s important for our program and the progress as a team to make something special. It’s important enough that 10,000 people bought tickets to come.’
“I didn’t specifically shout out to Mike Davis. He knew who I was talking about. You said some stuff. You better react and have some good games.”
Guard Demetri McCamey had 15 points and 10 assists. Center Mike Tisdale had 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Other than Davis’ comments, the Illini have reacted well to the NIT. Practices over the last two weeks have been some of the best this season, Weber said, in part because the Illini were humbled with their postseason path.
“Even going into Selection Sunday, I was doubtful and nervous,” Weber said. “They said, ‘What are you worrying about, coach? Maybe it was a good slap in the face. Sometimes you need that, to be a little more humble and hungry. It’s probably the reason we’re playing in the NIT.”
After a light workout following the late return from the first-round victory at Stony Brook, practices were filled with competitive drills Friday and Saturday. Weber learned that forward Bill Cole wanted to see his brother, T.J., play for Peoria Richwoods in the Class 3A state title game early Saturday afternoon.
Despite the chance to sleep late during spring break, the team voted to practice early to allow Cole the opportunity to the see state championship game.
“Usually you hear grumbles,” Weber said. “It was a real good team thing. It was, ‘What time do you want to go, Bill?’ I thought that was a good thing. Togetherness. Help somebody out. It paid off. We played better as a team.”
Kent State wasn’t like playing Ohio State, Minnesota or Wisconsin — three NCAA tournament teams that defeated Illinois here in the last three regular-season games — but the Illini finally ended the slide in the Hall.
“We felt like we let our fans down, losing three games in a row even though it was against top teams,” McCamey said. “You don’t want to lose on your home court, especially when you have a great crowd. We wanted to go out and play for the crowd, have the town happy and everybody enjoying it.”
Kent State (24-10), the regular-season champ in the Mid-American Conference, failed to sustain an early four-point lead. Forward Justin Greene had 15 points to lead Kent State. Reserve forward Anthony Simpson, a Rockford Auburn graduate who was the MAC’s sixth man of the year, had 14 points and seven rebounds.’
“We haven’t beaten a Big Ten team on the road since 1970,” Kent State coach Geno Ford said. “They might have had peach baskets back then. The crowd gave them a lift, then Mike Davis gave them a bigger lift.”
McCamey is averaging 8.5 assists over the last four games. . . . Kent State is 0-3 against the Big Ten since defeating Indiana 77-71 in the NCAA Tournament in 2001.
Tickets for Dayton game on sale
Sales for tickets for the NIT quarterfinal game at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Dayton began immediately after Illinois’ victory over Kent State in the second round.
General admission seats in A Section are $25 and will be available exclusively to I Fund members and season-ticket holders on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no reserved seating.
In the event that A-Section general admission tickets should remain following Monday’s postgame sale, they will be available for purchase today beginning at 9 a.m. at the Assembly Hall ticket office, by phone (866-ILLINI-1) or online at FightingIllini.com.
General admission seats in B and C Sections are $15 each. They are available for purchase 24 hours a day online at fightingillini.com, and today beginning at 9 a.m. at the ticket office and by phone.
Parking will remain $5 for all Assembly Hall lots.
Illinois report card
Front court — A
Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale took advantage of their size. Davis set a school record in NIT play with 16 rebounds. Tisdale overcame two early fouls and scored 17 points in 24 minutes played.
Back court — B+
Like the opening-round game at Stony Brook, Demetri McCamey didn’t look enthusiastic early but still finished with big numbers.
Bench — B
Dominique Keller provided a boost in the first half, when the Illini were without Tisdale. Brandon Paul was efficient with nine points on six shots.
Overall — A-
Illinois kept the season alive with a win at Assembly Hall. The Illini are one victory away from reaching the NIT semifinals for the first time since 1980.