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Indiana 83, Illinois 79 (2OT).

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As I said last night, I can't believe IU won. I wasn't confident going in, the atmosphere was even worse than expected, and IU ended up down 10 in the second half, thanks to the Illini's uncharacteristically good performance from behind the arc. Eric Gordon struggled, scoring only one point in the first half and finishing 3-13 from the field. Still, despite a nice performance from Illinois, IU pulled it out.
About that atmosphere. IU fans are not innocent in this regard. Transfer Luke Recker and hometown product/legacy Sean May were treated poorly by IU fans when they played in Assembly Hall in recent years, as was Lawrence Funderburke back when I was a student. When I was a student, I thought it was just great. By the time the Recker/May games rolled around, I thought it was a bit much. The booing, the chants, and all that aren't classy, but they happen everywhere. And I certainly won't object to the well-deserved ribbing that Kelvin Sampson takes for his NCAA violations. My problem with Illinois is that the atmosphere wasn't a grass roots exercise spurred by immature and intoxicated students: at Illinois, it starts at the top. Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther repeatedly has referred to Gordon's change of heart as a "defection" (who the hell does Guenther think he is, Fidel Castro?). Weber complains about it constantly, particularly in the press conferences surrounding the first IU game, when he discussed being one player away and all that. Of course Weber is right, to a degree. As I have noted in most of my previous posts, Illinois does lots of things very well, but offsets those successes by shooting very poorly most of the time. This would be a much better Illinois team if Eric Gordon were on the team. But he's not, and he never will be.
Weber should look in the mirror and ask himself how in the world a program that played in the NCAA title game in 2005 can be so dependent on a single one-and-done recruit that the program ends up in the cellar without him. He also should ask himself whether his constant whining enhances the public image of his program. He and Illini fans have allowed Eric Gordon's switch to become the defining moment of his program. At some point, he should move forward, accept it, and try to beat Kelvin Sampson for the next recruit. For a college head coach, Weber just doesn't seem to relish competition. In his press conference last night, all he did was whine about the bad bounces that the Illini have had this year. They have had some bad bounces, but they also shoot 30 percent from three point range and 60 percent from the line. Any team with numbers like that is going to lose a bunch of games. As I said, the chants were going to happen no matter what. But Weber's constant complaining about this certainly fuels the anger of the Illinois fans. I won't blame him for the chants, but I will blame him for promoting an atmosphere that led to debris raining down on the Gordons and an Illinois player taking a cheap shot at Gordon during introductions. The game should have begun with two shots and the ball for IU. What kind of wuss must one be to take a cheap shot at someone during introductions? The kind of player who plays for a self-pitying, mouth-breathing crybaby like Bruce Weber, apparently. He complains publicly. He won't shake the hands of IU players or assistants. All this over a 17 year-old who changed his mind about where to go to college.
Box score. Yes, there was a basketball game, and a damn good one. It is to the Illini's credit that watching them play IU is a stressful experience--I can't imagine what it's like to play them. They defend well, crash the offensive boards, yet still manage to get back on defense to prevent transition opportunities. Pomeroy's tempo-free numbers for this game aren't up yet, but this appears to have been about a 77 possession game, which computes to about 61.5 possessions for a 40 minute game. So the pace certainly was consistent with Illinois's game. It certainly felt as if the Illini shot better than 36 percent from behind the arc, probably because of the sheer number of threes made (11). The Hoosiers also made 11 on 23 attempts. Illinois took more shots, mostly because they took good care of the ball (11 turnovers, which is very good for a 77 possession game) and didn't shoot many free throws. Ultimately, the Hoosiers won the game at the line, with 22-29 compared to Illinois's 8-17. Neither team rebounded all that well offensively, given the number of missed shots. Really, this was a pretty evenly matched game that came down to free throws at key moments at the end of regulation and overtimes, and IU made shots while Sean Pruitt did not.
Individuals:
  • Further evidence that Eric Gordon isn't capable of a truly bad game. Sure, 3-13 and seven turnovers are bad numbers, and the 10 second violation was inexcusable, but Gordon still scored 19 points thanks to the free throws.
  • Jamarcus Ellis also shot poorly (9 points on 10 shots), including two free throws that could have ended the game in the first overtime. Still, 11 rebounds on 3 steals.
  • DJ White's line wasn't as impressive as in other games (17 points on 11 shots, 9 rebounds), but he also added 3 steals and 2 blocks.
  • Jordan Crawford is always dangerous to one team, and fortunately he was dangerous to the opponent this time. 18 points on 13 shots, 4-6 from three point range, only 2 turnovers in 32 minutes.
  • Armon Bassett scored 16 points on eight shots. Despite 3-8 from the field, he was 8-8 from the line, mostly in the second overtime.
  • Kyle Taber, by playing invisible, mistake free ball, continues to take minutes from Mike White and Deandre Thomas. In 21 minutes, Taber made his only shot (a putback), pulled down three rebounds, and didn't turn the ball over (although he did bobble a ball that he could have saved from going out of bounds). Hopefully his do-no-harm approach will provide an example to his teammates at the power forward position.

Well, I'm glad it's over, although IU certainly could face the Illini in the BTT if the Illini win on the first day. IU now plays at Ohio State on Sunday (thankfully, it's not Saturday, so the Hoosiers will have some time to recover. After that, IU plays home games against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Purdue. While IU has a good chance to win each individual game, even a 3-1 record over that stretch will put IU in excellent position to contend for the Big Ten title and a high seed. IU is now 4-1 on the road in the Big Ten with Penn State and Northwestern still remaining (in addition to OSU, a toss-up, and MSU, a likely loss). If the Hoosiers can continue to defend their homecourt, and especially if they pick up a win in Columbus, they will be in the hunt for the conference title until the very end.