Illinois Pounds Mercer, Gets Set for Mu Test

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Illinois is Illinois and Missouri is Missouri.

And Thursday, the two basketball teams shall meet.

But Mercer coach Bill Hodges has had close encounters with both in the past three days. On Saturday, Missouri managed to eke out a 74-73 victory when the Bears' Will Tuttle blew a game-winning layup with a second on the clock.

On Monday night, No. 23 Illinois overwhelmed a fatigued Mercer team 90-66 in Assembly Hall. Illinois upped its record to 8-1, Mercer bowed to 3-4.

In last year's confrontation at the St. Louis Arena, Missouri squeaked out a 108-107 victory over Illinois - but it took three overtimes.

So did Hodges care to bventure any predictions on the bannual battle?

Not really.

"You're talking about two awfully good friends of mine," Hodges said. "It's really kind of unfair for me to evaluate that, in that at Missouri we were really playing well. They were coming off finals after an eight-day layoff. They didn't play very well. We came in here and we're exhausted . . .

"I think Illinois (is) more physical by quite a bit," Hodges said. "(Missouri's) got a kid named O'Liney who's awfully difficult to keep from scoring. Illinois has got a better point guard.

"I think a lot depends on how Illinois shoots the ball."

Hodges noted that Illinois has bigger bodies. "If Illinois can either shoot like it did today or they can board like they did today, Missouri will have a difficult time with that."

And at least one Mercer player, Chance Solomon, took sides.

"Probably Illinois - because they're more up and down," said Solomon, who burned the Fighting Illini for 30 points. "When Illinois goes up and down, they look to shoot. When Missouri goes up and down, they stop and set up their offense."

Illinois' offense was working like clockwork for all of the first half and early in the second against Mercer. …