CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois guard Demetri McCamey found the key to beat Wisconsin through a little friendly holiday advice.
"He came back from Christmas and he announced to the team that he has to get to the basket more because somebody at Christmas dinner told him that," Illini coach Bruce Weber said Sunday, shaking his head after McCamey did just that as Illinois (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) beat Wisconsin 69-61. "Well, I've been telling him that for three-and-a-half years, [the media] has been telling him, the fans have been telling him -- somebody at Christmas dinner finally got to him."
McCamey scored 21 points, including making all 11 of his free throw attempts. He had 12 points over the game's final 7 minutes that slowly buried the Badgers.
While McCamey's revelation reached him at the dinner table, Weber said he had had a little holiday revelation of his own through a bad December loss to Illinois-Chicago. He realized he has to ride his team, particularly McCamey, Davis and fellow senior Mike Tisdale, harder than he would like.
"I have to throw chairs, yell at them and do stupid things," Weber said. "I learned you can't be nice to them."
That approach worked Sunday.
The Illini outshot the Badgers 66.7 percent to 42.9, and held Wisconsin to 28 percent shooting in the second half.
Yet Wisconsin hung around, and pulled within 54-49 with 6:34 to play on a 3-pointer by Tim Jarmusz.
"We go on a run, they call a timeout, they walk calmly to the bench," and come out with a play that delivers points, Weber said. "You're not going to put a Bo Ryan team away."
The Wisconsin coach felt much the same way in the game's final minutes, like a comeback could be just a shot or two away.
"As bad as we were shooting the ball, those last [few] minutes, I felt like we had a chance," Ryan said.
That left it to McCamey to methodically finish off the game.
He hit a 3 with 5:15 to play, pulling up at the line and firing as he led the Illini up the court, never looking for a passing option before he drained the shot that made it 59-49.
After a 3-pointer by Taylor, Mccamey answered with another one, dribbling out the final seconds on the shot clock before launching the ball and finding the net for a 63-52 lead with 2:58 to play.
The rest of the way, if Illinois had the ball, McCamey was handling it, forcing the Badgers to send him to the line.
McCamey, who had seven assists, said he never intended to take over the game's final minutes; it just happened.
"It's not I'm going to take it over at this point in time or that point in time," he said. "It's just being aggressive.
"If I get my teammates shots, it's going to open up for me [later in the game]."
Wisconsin clung to narrow leads through most of the game's first 7-plus minutes, hitting 3-pointers that kept the Badgers ahead even as they traded baskets with Illinois. The Badgers hit six 3s in the first half, three by Keaton Nankivil, who finished with 11 points.
Illinois took a 29-25 lead with 6:38 left in the first half on a drive and layup by Brandon Paul.
In the second half the Illini finally found a little breathing room, moving ahead 45-38 on two free throws by McCamey with 13:53 to play.
Cole buried a 3 on Illinois' next possession for a 48-38 lead, igniting the crowd and earning chest bumps from Davis and Paul as Ryan called a timeout.
Two minutes later, after two free throws by Leuer pulled the Badgers within eight, freshman center Meyers Leonard gave Illinois a 51-40 lead on a two-handed dunk and -- drawing a foul by Mike Bruesewitz -- a free throw.