Saturday, 1 September 2007

Illinois Edges Carleton in OT before capacity crowd

6'7" Rodney Alexander's three pointer from the left wing with 40.9 seconds remaining in the extra frame was the difference as Illinois Fighting Illini began their tour of Ottawa & Montreal with a 74-72 overtime victory over the Carleton Ravens before a full house at the Raven's Nest. Alexander, a junior swingman, hit his big three giving Illinois their largest lead of the extra session at 3 before the Ravens narrowed the gap to 2 on a free throw by 6'8" Kevin McCleery. When Carleton held on the next possession, the Ravens had a chance to tie or win on the final possession however 6'5" Jean Emmanuel Jean-Marie missed a 15 footer on the baseline at the buzzer and Illinois escaped with a victory. Carleton had an opportunity to win the game in regulation after they mounted a late comeback however 6'7" Aaron Doornekamp's contested 20 footer from the left wing at the buzzer in regulation fell short, partially the result of some contact that was overlooked by one of the officials. Carleton basically lost this game at the free throw as the Ravens went an uncharacteristic 12-25 from the stripe including several front ends and a 1-5 effort from Jean-Marie. The Ravens basically played short-handed as 6'4" Ryan Bell had just returned from the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifier in Las Vegas, his flight landing in Ottawa about 1 hour prior to game time. Bell had about a 5 minute warm up and then played sparingly and in his place Doornekamp and 6'2" Stu Turnbull took over much of the primary ball handling responsibilities.
In a somewhat listless first half, Carleton's underrated 6'3" wing Rob Saunders hit a pair of open 3's off fine feeds from Doornekamp and the Ravens led 13-10 early. Carleton played all 12 players who dressed in the first half (only Mike Kenny did not appear) but the Ravens started 2 for 9 from the foul line and Illinois 6'5" junior shooting guard Steve Holdren (15 points in only 18 minutes) began finding his range from behind the arc while 6'10" senior center Shaun Pruitt (13 points/6 rebounds) got free off Illinois staple high/low action allowing the Illini to forge to a 33-28 halftime advantage. Holdren later turned his ankle and did not return to action despite icing and later walking on it, albeit gingerly.

Both teams appeared much more focused in the second half and the game had much more flow. After Illinois jumped out to an early 8 point lead, Turnbull and Jean-Marie hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead again. Jean-Marie, who spent the four seasons of his career as primarily a post player, hit a pair of 3's in the game and had several strong takes both to the rim and pulling up from 15 feet. He has very obviously developed the mid-range skills and shooting range necessary to be more of a factor on the wing this season, another luxury for Coach Dave Smart with the size and quality Carleton has brought in to play the post. Turnbull, who has tightened his handle to the point where he can be counted on to take care of the ball down the stretch, still can make open shots and is getting better at taking the ball all the way and finishing off the bounce. With Illinois holding a one point lead midway through the second half, the athletic jumping jack Alexander brought the crowd to its feet with a spectacular follow up slam that was more difficult than it looked. Illinois took the momentum and rode it to a 10-2 run and a 62-53 lead with about 5 minutes to play forcing the Ravens to talk it over. Carleton came out of the time out getting an easy look and then scored 7 of the next 9 points as Doornekamp (20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 7 turnovers (some questionable)) knocked down a 3. Later Doornekamp beat Pruitt off the dribble got to the rim, was hit and made the shot as the whistle blew for the expected "and 1". However, the side referee called the foul on the floor - an abysmal call - and instead of a 3 point play which would have cut the lead to 1, Carleton got the ball out-of-bounds. It was one of several decisions that left spectators scratching their heads in bewilderment in this opening game of the season. Undaunted, Doornekamp drew a double team in the post and fed McCleery for an easy lay-up that tied the score at 64 with 57 seconds remaining. 6'2" junior guard Chester Fraser then got to the rim on the ensuing possession and was fouled, but missed a pair of free throws with 30 seconds remaining, setting up Doornekamp's controversial shot at the end of regulation when it appeared he was hit on the shot.

Carleton shortened their bench, going with their veterans primarily but 6'7" freshman Aaron Chapman (8 points, 5 rebounds, 20 minutes) also got time, keeping the Ravens in the game early in the half. Two other freshman 6'6" Cole Hobin and 6'3" Elliot Thompson saw action with Thompson making his only shot while 6'10" Neal Dawson played 7 minutes for Carleton without scoring.

Illini fans got their first look at smooth 6'3" freshman Demetri McCarney who showed tremendous skills off the bounce, smoothly beating people off the dribble and showed an equally spectacular ability to finish in traffic. The Ravens, usually very strong ball and help side defenders, had their difficulties with this slick wing.

NOTES: For those who care, there were no Michael Jordan sightings however among the out-of-town celebrities in the crowd were Toronto Raptors GM Brian Colangelo (difficult to peg without his customary Armani suit) and affable Canadian Jr. National Team Head Coach Greg Francis. Illinois meets the Ottawa Gee-Gees across town at Montpetit Hall tomorrow at noon while Carleton gets set to face Big East foe Villanova Wildcats at the Raven's Nest on Saturday at 7 PM.

Here is a report from the Illinois web site including a game recap from their perspective and the full box score and play-by-play Illinos 74, Carleton 72 OVERTIME

Also, here is a solid piece by Neate Sager touching on the media frenzy surrounding last night's game, particularly about Jeff Jordan (Michael's son) Ravens Frosh Overshadowed

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