Illinois 77, Belmont 51
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Warren Carter had 21 points as Illinois rode a strong second half performance to a 77-51 victory against Belmont on Sunday.
The Illini (10-2) opened well, but they struggled to maintain their momentum throughout the first half. A key push to start the second half gave the team a secure lead.
A season-high 22 turnovers tainted the victory for Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
While Illinois pulled out the victory, Weber said he worries the turnover problem will not subside. He said Illinois has struggled to hold on to the ball all season, and that struggling against limited pressure from Belmont is a bad sign as the Illini prepare for the Big Ten.
“Especially in the momentum of the game, we’re not taking care of the ball,” Weber said after Sunday’s game. “You don’t try to make a big play, you just try to do the basics.”
Shane Dansby came off the bench to lead Belmont (7-3, 2-0 Atlantic Sun Conference) with 13 points and center Boomer Herndon pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
Illinois jumped to a 9-point lead in less than five minutes, building a 15-6 advantage with 15:38 left on the clock.
Three Belmont 3-pointers compared to one Illinois jumper cut Illinois’ lead to 17-15 with 12:10 in the half, but Illinois used a 7-0 run to make the score 24-15 less than three minutes later. Belmont stayed close, clawing within one bucket three more times before the break.
“I thought in the first half we subbed, and it might have cost us a little bit,” Weber said. “I’ve got to sub, sometimes guys get tired, but they’ve got to keep the momentum going.”
The Bruins have outscored 44 of their last 63 opponents in the second half, but at halftime Weber stressed improved defense and limiting turnovers.
In the second half, Illinois went on a 13-4 run to make it 49-34 Illinois with 15:38 to play.
“I think our pressure wore them down a little bit. They came in with some great energy early,” Weber said. “In the first half we were very stagnant offensively.”
Calvin Brock made a long jump shot for Illinois, then Belmont’s Boomer Herndon made a jumper before Jamar Smith and Brian Randle added a pair of 3-pointers for the Illini to make it 57-36 with 10:30 to play. Randle finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
Belmont never closed within 18 points through the rest of the game.
“I thought the second half, Illinois’ defense was really good,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “We got some backdoor cuts several times, completed the pass, and immediately somebody was there. I don’t even know where they were coming from.”