NEW YORK -- If Illinois' 90-84 overtime loss to Texas Thursday night was any indication, there’s still some work to be done, but a second-half rally showed these Illini have some toughness and grit.
NEW YORK — It’s November, the time of year when everyone starts to build opinions in the young college basketball season.
No. 13 Illinois came to Madison Square Garden to make a statement and return to the upper echelon of college basketball. After failing to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament in two of the last three seasons, the Illini changed their attitude, bulked up their bodies and added another talented recruiting class.
If their 90-84 overtime loss to Texas in a 2K Sports Classic semifinal Thursday was any indication, there’s still some work to be done, but a second-half rally showed these Illini have some toughness and grit. Illinois coach Bruce Weber learned something about his team, but he was far from satisfied.
“We came here to see how good we are and see what we’re about,’’ Weber said. “We failed the first test.’’
Texas scored the first eight points in the overtime and made it a disappointing finish for the Illini in a high-speed game at a basketball mecca. This game felt more like a tournament in March than an event the week before Thanksgiving.
Illinois fell to 3-1 and dropped into the third-place game against Maryland (3-1) today. The Terrapins lost 79-70 to No. 5 Pittsburgh in the first semifinal Thursday.
Illinois rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half and grabbed a 69-68 lead with 5:59 left. The Illini later led 73-71 but couldn’t close it out. The Illini needed a postup move by freshman Jereme Richmond to force a 75-75 tie with 11.2 seconds left, sending the game into overtime.
“We had our chances at the end of regulation,’’ Weber said. “We finally took the lead. You’ve got to get stops and rebounds. They killed us on the boards.’’
Illinois relied on perimeter scoring while senior big men Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale fouled out in regulation.
Guard Demetri McCamey scored 22 to lead the Illini. Guard D.J. Richardson had 15 points while guard Brandon Paul added 12. Richmond scored 11 points.
“We can’t feel disappointed,’’ McCamey said. “We’ve got to come back and play tomorrow like an NBA lifestyle. We’ve got to get better. We talked about toughness in the offseason. We’ve got to be tougher. They kicked our butts on the glass.
“I wouldn’t say we failed the first test. It’s hard to know your weaknesses when you’re beating teams by 30 or 40 points. To beat the best, you have to play the best.’’
Texas exploded to start the second half and overtime. Wing guard Jordan Hamilton scored 25 points to lead Texas. Freshman forward Tristan Thompson had 20 points for the Longhorns.
The Longhorns scored the first nine points in the second half to break a 45-45 tie.
Texas led by eight in the first half before the Illini rallied for a 45-all halftime tie on a 3-pointer just before the buzzer by Tisdale. McCamey and Paul scored 12 points apiece before halftime.
Previously, Illinois had plans for a trip to Cancun, Mexico, this season for tournament play. A nice trip, a beautiful beach but not a chance to really test the Illini. So Weber jumped at the chance to play in this tournament — renamed for a sponsor but historically the Coaches vs. Cancer event that’s one of the early major dates on the college basketball calendar.
“Looking at our team and thinking we have a chance to be pretty good, we thought we needed to play a quality tournament,’’ Weber said.
Today’s opponent Maryland was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media poll, but the Terrapins have won their last three games against the Illini and five of the last six in meetings stretching from Washington, D.C., to Maui to Champaign to College Park, Md.
John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977.