CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — While winter’s first major onslaught raged outside, No. 11 Illinois unleased a storm of its own on visiting Georgetown inside quaking Assembly Hall last night.
The Illini parlayed a torrid 10-0 start into a 58-48 victory over the sluggish Hoyas, extending their streak of dominance at Assembly Hall to 26 consecutive victories.
After a nasty three-game stretch against major-conference foes Vanderbilt, Oregon and Illinois (9-0) that saw them traipse across the country in search of some serious road seasoning, the Hoyas (3-2) return to action Sunday at MCI Center for what should be a relative breather against Fairfield.
The Hoyas basically lost last night’s game before most of the 16,618 orange-clad Illini fans took off their coats. Just as they did at Oregon last Saturday, where the Hoyas fell behind 12-4, coach John Thompson III’s team staggered through the first 10 minutes of action. The Hoyas seemed in awe of the raucous environment. And unlike at Oregon, where they adjusted and erupted for a 71-57 victory, they never rebounded last night after starting with five-plus scoreless minutes and falling behind 25-9 late in the frame.
“This is an intimidating place, maybe the most intimidating in the country, and I don’t think they were ready for it,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber of his team’s quick start. “I think that got to them. We jumped on them early, and then backed it up with a superb defensive effort. We made them work for everything they got tonight, and I think that was the difference.”
Said Thompson: “We came out and dug a hole that was a little too deep to dig ourselves out of against a quality team on the road,” said Thompson. “We did claw back and keep it competitive. … Hopefully, it’s a learning process.”
The Hoyas certainly learned that there’s a major difference between trying to scratch back against a middle-tier Pac-10 team and the two-time defending Big Ten champion. Georgetown also got its first look of the season at two players for which they had no answers — Illinois All-American point guard Dee Brown (16 points, three assists) and 6-foot-10 jumping jack James Augustine (10 points, 13 rebounds), who tormented the Hoyas on the boards.
For the night, Augustine and Co. collected an astounding 21 offensive rebounds. And even in a second half in which Georgetown controlled the tempo and routinely battled back to within single-digits, the Iliini seemingly answered every Georgetown surge with a disheartening putback bucket on the offensive glass.
“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 21 offensive rebounds,” said Thompson. “They did a great job going after the ball, and we were just watching. We watched a little too much all night, and that will be addressed and corrected.”
Individually, the lone bright spot for the Hoyas was the play of sophomore forward Jeff Green (21 points, seven rebounds), who looked like the manchild who was co-Big East freshman of the year for the first time this season. After enduring a first half similar to the rest of his mates, Green strapped the team on his back after intermission, scoring 20 second-half points on 8-of-9 shooting to keep the outcome interesting until D.J. Owens missed an uncontested 3-pointer with the Hoyas down eight (48-40) and 2:15 remaining.
“Jeff played tonight, and we need that,” said Thompson. “We’re all a little down right now about the loss, but it’s early. We’re only five games into the season, and we’ve only played at home once. We did that for a reason to gauge where we were as a team, and hopefully we know what we need to work on now. The tough early schedule doesn’t look or feel too good right now, but hopefully it will pay dividends in the long run.”