Indiana's Verdell Jones III (12) reacts to losing to Illinois in the NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. Illinois won 72-70. (AP Photo/Heather Coit) By Heather Coit
Indiana coach Tom Crean yells from the sidelines in the first half of an NCAA College basketball game against Illinois in Champaign, Ill on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Heather Coit) By Heather Coit
Illinois coach Bruce Weber tries to communicate from the sidelines in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. Illinois won 72-70. (AP Photo/Heather Coit) By Heather Coit
Illinois' Tyler Griffey (42) dunks the ball against Indiana in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill. on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Heather Coit) By Heather Coit
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber has complicated relationship with Demetri McCamey.
Weber knows the junior guard is his best player, but he has spent the better part of three seasons riding McCamey for his work habits.
On Saturday, Weber had to love McCamey.
The stocky guard dribbled past a tight Indiana defense that didn't give him many options and sank a one-handed floater off the dribble to beat the Hoosiers at the buzzer 72-70.
"He's had a bunch of chances to win games," Weber said. "The one thing we told him is to go to the basket no matter what happens. And he did get to the basket. I get after him about his dang floaters all the time, but this one went in, so obviously it's a positive thing."
McCamey said he practices the shot every day.
"I knew it was good when it left my hand," he said.
McCamey scored 19 points and had a game-high eight assists to lead the Illini (14-8, 6-3) into a tie for second in the Big Ten with Wisconsin. It also kept the Illini's NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Indiana (9-11, 3-5) missed a chance to even its record. But coach Tom Crean said his team did everything he wanted except win.
"All you can ask your team is to do everything it can do," he said. "We did. We just didn't have the last possession."
The Hoosiers outrebounded Illinois 35-33, hit 19 of their 23 free throws and nailed nine three-pointers. And even with 35.0 percent shooting, they were tied 36-36 at the half, led most of the second half and gave themselves a shot at overtime when they tied the game at 70 on two free throws by Jeremiah Rivers with 22 seconds left.
That left Illinois with the ball and set the stage for McCamey.
With 4.4 seconds left, slumping Illini forward Mike Davis had the ball at the top of the key, but Illinois coach Weber called a timeout. The junior has started almost every game of his career but has lost his starting spot the last two games during a scoring drought.
Weber said he wanted to put the ball back in McCamey's hands, which he did.
McCamey inbounded the ball to Bill Cole, who fed it right back.
With no quick passing option, McCamey drove the right side of the lane, lifting his floater just ahead of the buzzer for the victory.
"It was just a play for us to go back door, and they did a good job of switching and forced me to go to the basket," McCamey said.
Added Crean: "Demetri McCamey made a tough shot, obviously."
The Illini fought back in a furious final four minutes that included a three-pointer by Cole to tie the game at 64 and four free throws by Mike Tisdale in the final two minutes to give them a short-lived 70-68 lead.
Tisdale finished with 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds.
Indiana (9-11, 3-5) was led by Champaign native Verdell Jones, who scored 22. They included eight points in a late-first-half run that turned a 32-20 Illini lead into a halftime tie.
Devan Dumes stole the ball from Illinois' D.J. Richardson and sank a looping jump shot from just shy of midcourt at the buzzer for the tie.
"It was great momentum," Crean said. "They were all very excited. They had never flinched when they were down in the first half."
Illinois started strong, opening that 12-point edge on a dunk by freshman Tyler Griffey with 3:32 left in the half.
But Illinois lost its way to the basket over the next three-plus minutes, and the Hoosiers found theirs.
The four most important of Jones' points came in a sequence with just over two minutes left in the half.
Jones hit the first of two free throw attempts to cut Illinois' lead 34-26, then missed the second. But Rivers grabbed the rebound and kicked the ball out to Jones waiting just beyond the three-point line. The sophomore made the shot, pulling Indiana within 34-29.
Since losing three in a row to Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern this month, Weber and his players have talked about the slim margin of error they had if they wanted to make the NCAA tournament. That's because the Illini, after heading to Iowa on Wednesday, play their next four against Top 25 teams: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue.
Just minutes before McCamey saved them from a loss that would have severely hurt their chances at the postseason, Weber shot McCamey a long, angry glare during a timeout after the guard had made back-to-back bad passes.
The coach said McCamey has developed a thick skin because he has been yelled at a lot since he came to Illinois.
"With Demetri's personality, as soon as we let up, he chills," Weber said. "I will stay on him. I will not let up."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)