Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Learn Large Lesson in Loss

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Learn Large Lesson in Loss

Article excerpt

Before christening Deon Thomas and Shelly Clark as the next killer Twin Towers of college hoops, one will have to consider Tuesday night's game against Marquette.

Much was made about how the two Illinois inside men would complement each other this season in games against other strong big men. That was preseason hype.

Thomas and Clark failed their first big test and the Warriors beat Illinois 74-65. Most alarming for the Illini was the manner in which Thomas and Clark reacted to Jim McIlvaine, a 7-foot post player, and Damon Key, a burly 6-8 power forward.

"I shot six for 14 and Shelly shot four for 14," Thomas said. "There's no way you're going to beat somebody playing like that."

Thomas picked up two quick fouls and played only seven minutes in the first half. "That sort of slowed me down," he said.

Even with Thomas sitting, Illinois trailed only 32-30 at halftime. Coach Lou Henson felt fairly good about things at that point because Thomas should have been rested and strong going into the second half.

"But he looked tired and lethargic and he really struggled," Henson said.

McIlvaine's presence in the middle was too imposing for Thomas and Clark to handle for much of the contest. And when the game was on the line, Thomas forced two awkward shots. The score was 66-62 with less than four minutes remaining. Thomas got the ball down low on two successive possessions, but Illinois failed to score.

"We had a chance to win the ballgame right there, but he just couldn't put it in," Henson said.

Senior guard T.J. Wheeler said the stretch that killed the Illini came about 10 minutes into the second half. Marquette switched to a matchup zone defense, and "we went for about three or four minutes not knowing what offense to run."

During this sequence, the Warriors broke to a seven-point lead on a Tony Miller 3-pointer, and Illinois never recovered.

Then, in the late going, Wheeler said "our shots were there, outside and inside. We just couldn't put them in. …

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