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Crunch time: All eyes on McCamey

Demetri McCamey sees all the eyes on him.

The Illinois senior doesn’t just feel the stares from the critics who say the point guard has underwhelmed this season – his averages of 14.8 points and 6.1 assists are down from 15.1 and 7.1 last season – but he often sees the dilated pupils of his teammates locked on him, especially in the final minutes of close games.

The Illini’s late-game struggles are well-documented. Illinois (19-13) has led or tied in the second half in 11 of its 13 losses.

The latest collapse – a 60-55 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals in which Illinois held a 51-39 lead with 8:35 remaining – was excruciating. McCamey deferred to teammates as Michigan finished the game on a 21-4 run. His last shot attempt came with 7:40 remaining.

“I think I was a little settled-in (against Michigan) and just passing knowing they were doubling me and just trying to make sure I make the best pass instead of just trying to be aggressive and get to the basket,” McCamey said.

“You can see everybody relies on me, so at the end of the day it’s going to be in my hands and I got to make the right decision if I have to pass or go all the way.”

McCamey, by far Illinois’ best player, must be more aggressive in crunch time. He’s said as much.

UConn’s Kemba Walker demands the ball when the game is on the line. So do Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin) and Talor Battle (Penn State), three of the better lead guards in the country.

But McCamey needs help if ninth-seeded Illinois is to beat eigth-seeded UNLV (24-8) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, 8 p.m. on TBS.

Too often, Illini teammates toss the ball around like a hot potato, passing the responsibility of taking the big shot.

“We just kind of watch Demetri, waiting for someone to make a play,” senior Mike Davis said. “Guys have to make plays themselves. We have enough players. We have enough talent. Guys can score the ball. It’s incredible. You come watch practice. Come watch a whole day of practice, different guys score every single time, and we have to do that in a game. Guys have to be as confident as they are in practice in a game.”

Davis said he and senior center Mike Tisdale must screen better. Probably, but that’s never been a strength for the lanky posts during their four seasons in orange and blue. Too often the Illini have relied on ball screens, an easy set to defend for opponents that have scouted Illinois.

McCamey said the team has added late-game plays in practice aiming to free McCamey for an open shot off the ball, but that relies on the unconfident ballhandling of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul to set up the play.

And confidence or lack thereof is one of the reasons Illinois late struggles.

“When we get a lead, we’re almost scared to lose,” senior center Mike Tisdale said. “That’s kind of how teams lose. We just have to keep pushing, keep the foot on the pedal.”

The other explanations: lack of leadership and killer instinct.

“We just have to finish games. We can’t play 32 minutes,” Davis said. “It’s not a high school game. You got to play 40.”

“Someone has to take over. Someone’s got to demand the ball and score.”

It looks like it better be the point guard McCamey. That’s what the eyes are saying on the court.


Categories: Illinois basketball

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