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Davis, Illinois out-slug Minnesota

Feb 27, 2009 - 5:50 AM CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (Ticker) -- In a typical Big Ten defensive battle, Mike Davis collected 14 points and 10 rebounds to help No. 20 Illinois outlast Minnesota, 52-41, on Thursday.

Trent Meacham added 13 points and Demetri McCamey added 10 for the Fighting Illini (23-6, 11-5 Big Ten), who clinched a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.

"It was an ugly game," Illinois guard Chester Frazier told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think either team shot particularly well, but we made plays when it counted."

Minnesota continues to falter down the stretch. Since beginning the season with the school's best start in over 50 years at 16-1, the Golden Gophers have gone 4-7 since January 18.

"Bad shooting and 20 turnovers," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith told the newspaper in explaining his team's most recent setback.

Davis gave Illinois a 40-39 lead with a layup with 10:09 left and added a jumper on the next possession to stretch it to three. Ralph Sampson III pulled Minnesota back within one with a jumper at the 6:21 mark, but McCamey and Meacham hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the game away.

The Illini led, 32-22, early in the second half before Minnesota clawed its way back with a 17-6 run. Sampson and Travis Busch scored five points apiece during the spurt.

But the Golden Gophers (20-8, 8-8) failed to score over the final 6:20 and were held to 32 percent (19-of-60) from the field in the contest, including 1-of-13 from beyond the arc.

After the contest, Illinois coach Bruce Weber took exception to the idea that the Big Ten plays an ugly brand of basketball.

"I'm sick of hearing all the junk," Weber told the newspaper. "... We guard, we prepare, we play our butts off in hostile environments. I'm sick off all that stuff.

"But you have to do your talking on the court, you have to do your talking when you get to the tournament. That's when we'll find out what it's about."

Damion Johnson led the way with 18 points on 9-of-18 shooting for Minnesota, which managed to stay in the game thanks in part to a 37-25 rebounding advantage.

Illinois, which held Minnesota's leading scorer Russell Westbrook to just four points, avenged a 56-39 loss on January 29.

"Obviously, a huge win," Weber told the Tribune. "I don't think our players understand, I don't think our fans understand. ... To get to 23 (wins) and in the top five (in the conference), without the pressure of winning the last two, it's so important."