CHAMPAIGN - It took awhile Monday night before Jamar Smith's teammates decided to stop watching him and give the sharp-shooting freshman guard some help.
"He played great and took the game over," said Dee Brown. "You saw it. It was self-explanatory. He went crazy. You need guys to shoot the basketball so I can get it to them and make my job easier."
With his silky-smooth quick release, Smith drained six 3-pointers in eight attempts and scored 23 points. The 11th-ranked University of Illinois basketball team broke away from a two-point lead with about 13 minutes left and rolled past Arkansas-Little Rock 75-49 at the sold-out Assembly Hall.
The Illini used a 19-0 run to build a 60-39 cushion. Illinois cruised from there in improving its record to 8-0 before Thursday's 8 p.m. home game against Georgetown.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber took a gamble in giving his team its mandatory day off Sunday so it would have two days to prepare for Georgetown and its unique Princeton-style offense. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-3) was coming off a 72-67 loss to Michigan State two days earlier.
That didn't mean Smith took Sunday off watching football games on television.
"I went to IMPE and shot for like 30 minutes," said Smith of a quick trip to the campus intramural building. "I didn't do nothing too big because I wanted my legs to be well rested for today."
Smith's three 3-pointers staked Illinois to a 23-15 lead with six minutes left in the first half. Arkansas-Little Rock got within 32-28 at halftime before whittling the deficit to 41-39 on Byron Ray's short basket early in the second half.
"In the first half we shot when we should have passed and passed when we should have shot," said Weber. "We had no timing or feel for our offense. A lot of it is no practice time. Jamar got us off to a great start."
Smith showed he's more than just a shooter in the decisive 19-0 blitz which lasted 6:15. He made a couple nifty passes to Brian Randle for baskets and also sank two more 3-pointers.
"One thing leads to another and before you know it it's a 19-0 run," said James Augustine, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. "We kind of fed off each other. Coach mentioned at halftime that we were lackadaisical and weren't playing together as a team."
Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields knew all about Smith's 3-point prowess, pointing to his 15-of-30 performance from 3-point range coming into the game. The Trojans lost track of Smith on a couple fast breaks and Brown happily found him spotted up beyond the arc.
With Rich McBride struggling for the second straight game (two points), Illinois needed Smith's outside shooting. Smith's previous high this season was 12 points against Texas Southern.
"Everyone on the floor made me feel real confident as well as the coach," said Smith.
Arkansas-Little Rock played a zone with good results for the last seven minutes of the first half. However, those plans were wrecked after the intermission.
"Smith started going off and we didn't think we could go to it," said Shields. Randle and reserve Warren Carter each scored 11 points for the Illini. Brown scored a season-low six points on 2-of-8 shooting but also handed out a season-high 10 assists, with a couple coming on lob passes for crowd-pleasing dunks to Randle and Carter.
After holding only a 17-14 rebounding advantage in the first half, Illinois turned things around after the intermission. Arkansas-Little Rock didn't get the weak-side rebounds it did in the first half as Illinois boxed out better and finished with a 41-28 overall advantage. Shaun Pruitt led the Illini with eight rebounds.
The Trojans shot only 28 percent in the second half to finish the game at 36 percent. Forward Lekheythan Malone paced Arkansas-Little Rock with 17 points.
The 21 points by Arkansas-Little Rock in the second half was a season low for an Illini opponent, as was the Trojans' second-half shooting.
"One thing we've kept constant is our defense. It carried us early (in the season) and it carried us tonight," said Weber. "I hope it carries us to Christmas. Motion coaches will tell you're not good until after Christmas. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that."
The Illini's backcourt was depleted Monday. Freshman Chester Frazier, who usually spells Brown at the point, didn't play because of a thigh bruise. Weber said Frazier will have an MRI today.
Big Ten honor for Augustine
Augustine was named Big Ten Co-Player of the Week for his play during last week's two Illini victories.
Against North Carolina, Augustine recorded his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds during Illinois' 68-64 victory. Augustine came back by equaling his career high with 23 points as the Illini edged Xavier 65-62.
It was the third Big Ten weekly honor for Augustine. Indiana's Marco Killingsworth shared the honor with Augustine.