CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- There are downsides to having one of the best crowds in the country. Just ask Demetri McCamey.
"It gets real loud, and I try to block some of that out because I'm trying to hear [Illinois coach] Bruce [Weber] on the sidelines," McCamey said. "And you know he's always yelling."
It's hard to hear yourself think in Assembly Hall -- especially when the Illini fans smell an upset win over a top-five opponent -- let alone hear your coach screaming from the sidelines at crucial moments. Fortunately for Weber, he didn't have much reason to yell at his star point guard on Saturday night. McCamey was just that good.
McCamey went for 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting Saturday night, leading Illinois to its thrilling 78-73 win over No. 5-ranked Michigan State. McCamey was most deadly behind the 3-point line, hitting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, including the most important shot of the night -- a high-arcing 3 that gave the Illini an eventually insurmountable 73-68 lead with 39 seconds remaining.
This time, it was Demetri's turn to talk over the crowd.
"I turned and told them that this was my house," McCamey said.
It was McCamey's best, most important performance of the year, and it came on Illinois' biggest, most important night. With ESPN's College Gameday in town and a national primetime audience tuning in, McCamey put on a show -- dominating the ball for the Illini at the point guard position and showcasing versatility and maturity in the way he used cuts, found spots and made plays in Weber's motion offense. It was the kind of performance that gets you asked about your "national profile" in postgame press conferences. On a night when everyone saw Demetri McCamey, where does McCamey see himself?
"I'm not trying to prove that I'm one of the best players in the country," McCamey said. "I just want Illinois to go to the tournament and do big things."
One is surely connected to the other. With McCamey in control, the Illini looked as good as they have all year. They were fast-paced and efficient on offense, running out to an early 14-6 lead. When Michigan State came charging back -- and charging back and charging back -- they were resilient and tough on defense. When the game was on the line, they, just like the guard with the ball in his hands, delivered.
It was a marquee tournament win in front of a major audience, and if Illinois is going to make McCamey's tournament wish come true, tonight was a pretty good start.
"We took a step," Weber said. "But it's not like we've made it or anything. You enjoy tonight, enjoy the crowd, because you've got to celebrate sometime. And then we go to Wisconsin on Tuesday. It's going to be tough.
"But we improved," Weber said. "You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year. We're starting to do that."
And as for his guard? Yeah, maybe Bruce didn't need to yell after all.
"I get on Demetri a lot," Weber said, smiling. "But he was pretty good tonight."