Illinois vs. Maryland basketball preview. With preview capsule.
(Editors: Please update betting line and local radio information in preview capsule.)
(Editors: Please update betting line and local radio information in preview capsule.) Illinois junior Chester Frazier makes an important trip when Illinois plays at Maryland tonight in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game at the Comcast Center. The point guard enjoys a rare appearance in his home state, just a few miles from his childhood home in the rough east Baltimore neighborhood known for drugs, violence and death. A proud son, he plays before his family and close friends for the first time as a Division I college basketball player. His mother, Peggy Lynch, traveled to Champaign once last season to see her son play, but Frazier couldn't go because of a nagging foot injury. Also watching for the first time is Frazier's older brother James, who is serving in the Navy. But Frazier never had that chance to play with his father in the stands. Chester Frazier Sr. died last spring after losing a battle with cancer. "I try not to let things like that get to me,'' said Frazier, known more for his toughness than a dazzling display of basketball skill. "I think about my father everyday. Basketball and my father are two different things. I try to block that out.'' It's not that Frazier doesn't feel sorrow. This is the young man who somehow played a road game against Indiana last winter just moments after learning his father had cancer, who cried and remained by the side of his father's lifeless body for four hours after returning home too late to say goodbye last spring, who invited his younger brother Josh to campus for three weeks last summer to serve as his surrogate father. Freshman Mike Davis, a native of nearby Alexandria, Va., also gets a chance to play close to home. Yet there's no comparison of the trip's importance between Davis and Frazier, who feels excitement, not pain, upon returning home this time. "It's pretty big,'' Frazier admitted. "I'll have a lot of people there. I just get a chance to see my family and get a chance for them to see me play. We don't play close to home much. This is probably the closest I'll ever get.'' His former coaches, teammates and teachers at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School will use some of the 30 tickets Frazier scrounged from his teammates. This isn't about coach Bruce Weber getting Frazier motivated to play without his father watching. It's about Weber reminding Frazier to remain calm and play under control against a team that ended Illinois' 51-game non-conference home-court winning streak a year ago with a 72-66 victory in a Challenge game. Frazier had two points on 1-for-8 shooting, five assists and one turnover. "He's talked about this game since the schedule came out,'' Weber said. "It's a big game for him. I hope he can have some emotional control with himself. He has a tendency to get going too fast.'' Unlike that game a year ago, Frazier is healthy. The turf toe suffered the previous game against Bradley that probably should have kept Frazier on the bench against Maryland is now healed. His feet aren't throbbing and worn raw like they were last year, even though Illinois already leaned heavily upon Frazier. Frazier already posted 19 points and a career-high nine rebounds in the 79-77 win against Hawaii and retained the starting position ahead of future star Demetri McCamey. Frazier is third in scoring (8.2 per game), second in rebounding (6.2) while leading the Illini in minutes played (33). "He pretty much won the game at Hawaii,'' Weber said. "I thought he got so exhausted after the Duke game, he just was punch drunk in the Oklahoma State game. He made bad decisions, took a couple questionable shots and turned it over with casual, bad passes. I was a little disappointed. "Nobody else was playing in the Hawaii game. He had to play 39 minutes. Then he came back and played a lot of minutes against Arizona State and Duke. It took a toll on him. Once the games were over, he sat in his hotel room and slept. We have to get him back and hope some other guys can step up and not be so demanding of him.'' John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com. PREVIEW CAPSULE Illinois (4-1) vs. Maryland (4-2) 6:30 p.m., Comcast Center, College Park, Md. (ESPN2, Illini Sports Network) ILLINOIS (4-1) ppg rpg F Brian Randle Sr. 6-8 11.8 4.4 F Rodney Alexander Jr. 6-7 8.2 4.6 C Shaun Pruitt Sr. 6-10 11.2 8.0 G Trent Meacham Jr. 6-2 8.2 1.6 G Chester Frazier Jr. 6-2 8.4 6.2 MARYLAND (4-2) ppg rpg F Landon Milbourne So. 6-7 5.6 4.8 F James Gist Sr. 6-9 14.6 6.8 C Bambale Osby Sr. 6-8 12.2 6.2 G Greivis Vasquez So. 6-6 17.7 5.5 G Eric Hayes So. 6-4 10.0 3.7 Noteworthy: Maryland leads the series 4-2 and holds a 2-0 advantage against the Illini in Big Ten-ACC Challenge games. Besides last season's 72-66 victory over the Illini, Maryland also scored a 76-63 win over the visiting Illini in Cole Fieldhouse in 2001. … The Illini are 3-5 all-time in Big Ten-ACC Challenge games. The Illini are 1-4 in Challenge games away from Assembly Hall. Maryland is 5-3 in the Challenge, including a 3-0 mark while playing at home. … Randle is expected to play after returning to practice Monday. He missed the second half against Oklahoma State and two days of practice because of a bruised nerve. … Illinois plays the final game in a five-game road trip after posting a 3-1 record while in Hawaii. Before the Illini play at home Saturday, they will log 10,170 miles in the road trip. … Vasquez scored 17 points against the Illini last season. Key for Illini: Utilize the bench and force a young Terps team to rely on its youth. Key for Terps: Make the Illini beat you from the perimeter. Key quote: "We have to do a good job against the two guards. (Vasquez) took over the game against us, made several plays against us to win the game last year. Hopefully, we make them go to their bench. They're a little young and have a little bit of a drop off.'' -- Illini coach Bruce Weber. Betting line: Prediction: Illinois 69, Maryland 68