CHAMPAIGN - If Bruce Weber worried about rust in the wake of Illinois' 32-point victory over Missouri and a one-week break over Christmas, Dee Brown & Co. proved to be rust busters Wednesday night.
Brown led a balanced attack with 16 points and fans cheered a showtime barrage that included nine 3-pointers, an assortment of dunks and Brown's 42-foot buzzer-beating jumper to end the first half as No. 6 Illinois remained unbeaten with an 89-64 victory over Southeast Missouri State Wednesday night at the Assembly Hall.
Brown passed Andy Kaufmann and moved into seventh place on Illinois' career scoring list with 1,536 points.
Brown had plenty of support and the Illini bench turned in one of its best games of the season.
Jamar Smith, who is now shooting 58.6 percent from 3-point range (34 of 58), was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field including four 3-pointers for 14 points.
Warren Carter matched that with a career-high 14 points and won Weber's praise for his defense.
And James Augustine had 12 points and eight rebounds. He now needs three rebounds to tie Deon Thomas for second place all-time and needs 11 to pass Efrem Winters' career mark of 853 rebounds.
Weber credited Brown's all-out energy for setting a pace that even his own teammates had a difficult time matching.
"I told Dee, 'You just push it. I don't care if your teammates don't want to run with you. Just shoot it. I don't care.' He beat some people down the court and finally other guys realized, 'Hey, we've got to run with him."'
Brown's overdrive energy level paid off in the final seconds of the first half and came at a time when Southeast Missouri State was still within reach, thanks largely to Roy Booker, who scored 16 of his 26 points in the first half.
Illinois led by just six points, 33-27, when Brown burst to the hole and scored to make it 35-27 with 31 seconds to play in the half. Then, after Booker hit a pair of free throws that brought the lead back to six points, Brown crossed mid-court and snapped off a 42-foot jumper that rattled in to give Illinois a nine-point edge at the half.
"I just threw it up and prayed it would go in and it went in," Brown said. "It was a big momentum swing for us going into halftime."
Weber felt it set the stage for a much stronger second-half showing.
"We've let some teams get buckets on us at the end of halves, so this time we got a little retaliation," he said. "Instead of them having their heads up and feeling good, they start bickering in the tunnel."
Illinois turned up the intensity in the second half, erupting for 51 points, the team's first 50-point half of the season.
"Illinois is just very good in all phases of the game," Southeast Missouri State coach Gary Garner said. "They wore us down as the game went on. They are a very good team, very well coached and they don't beat themselves. I'm really impressed with them. They beat you in all different ways, inside and outside.
"There were three things I thought we had to do to stay in the game. One was get back and prevent transition baskets. We were doing a good job of that until the last eight or 10 minutes. Another was limit turnovers and we did a good job of that.
"The third was rebounding, and they just kind of put it on us."
Illinois outrebounded Southeast Missouri State (4-7) 48-24 with Brian Randle grabbing nine.
The other positive note for the Illini was the return of freshman point guard Chester Frazier, who missed the past three weeks with a slight muscle tear in his thigh.
Frazier was expected to be out four to eight weeks. So getting him back in three weeks was unexpected. That he played so well in his first game back was a bonus.
Frazier played 13 minutes and although he did not score, he had five assists, five rebounds and no turnovers. And he pushed the ball with nearly the same frenzy that Brown generated.
Illinois can close out the non-conference portion of the season with a 14-0 record if it can defeat Tennessee-Martin Friday night. Purdue got past Tennessee-Martin 62-54 on Wednesday. And Tennessee-Martin defeated Southeast Missouri State 72-60 on Dec. 3.
"We know other teams are going to give us their best shot," Brown said. "It's just how mentally prepared we are. And when another team goes on a run and gets the momentum, how do we respond? Do we lay down or do we raise our intensity? In the second half tonight, we raised our intensity."
Mark Tupper can be reached at mtupperyayayherald-review