STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Illinois felt the sting of being left out of the NCAA tournament.
Then, the Fighting Illini were forced to hit the road to start the NIT despite being a top seed in their bracket because Cirque du Soleil was playing at Assembly Hall.Despite all that, Illinois still was able to beat eighth-seeded Stony Brook 76-66 in front of a loud sellout crowd of 4,423 at Stony Brook Arena on Wednesday night.
Follow the NIT championship from first-round games through the finals at Madison Square Garden on April 1. Bracket
"We're still disappointed, obviously," Illinois' Mike Davis said. "But Coach has been talking all week about making something happen in the NIT, just move on to next year as far as getting ready for next year. Just win a championship and learn how to win championships because hopefully next year we can make a run."Davis led Illinois (20-14) with 17 points, and Demetri McCamey just missed a triple-double with 16 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. D.J. Richardson also contributed 16 points and Mike Tisdale added 15 for the Fighting Illini, who had been knocked out in the Big Ten semifinals.Next up in the second round is fourth-seeded Kent State at Assembly Hall on Monday. Illinois is two wins away from the NIT's version of the Final Four at Madison Square Garden."I think you're going to have to get to New York to get over what happened," coach Bruce Weber said. "You dream of being in the NCAA. You dream of that goal. At least we still get to play. I kind of said before that it might be better to go on the road. I was still nervous as heck, but it might have got them a little bit of a jump start, a shock treatment, get the juices going."Bryan Dougher made five 3-pointers on the way to a 21-point effort for the Seawolves (22-10). The America East regular-season champs were playing the first postseason game in their 11-year Division I tenure.It was the first time the Seawolves had hosted a Big Ten team, and it was only their third home game against a BCS conference team. It was also their first game on national television.Stony Brook Arena, which has been scheduled for renovation, was used to accommodate more fans. The team had played its home games in the same complex, but at Pritchard Gymnasium, which holds 1,680 fans. But the bigger arena was rocking for this game."We've got a good program here," Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell said. "People are starting to take notice. This isn't a lacrosse town anymore, I hope. We're trying to make it a basketball town."After McCamey hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to give the Fighting Illini a 38-36 lead, the All-Big Ten first-team guard drilled another 3 to start the second half and launch a 10-2 run. Tisdale and Richardson also made 3s in the burst, helping Illinois open a 48-38 advantage.The Seawolves cut it to 48-43 and later trimmed a 12-point deficit to 59-54 with seven minutes left, but they never got closer than that five-point margin.Illinois, which had fallen behind 7-0 at the start of the game, went 8 of 8 from the line in the final minute to clinch it.Stony Brook got hurt by the Fighting Illini on the boards, getting outrebounded 38-25."I thought we were the tougher team today," Pikiell said. "I just thought we were a little undersized and outrebounded by a big margin. We played a great team, great program, great coach."