Some otherwise loyal Illini fans were kicking their dog, throwing the remote, and/or flipping on the PlayStation or movie or whatever after that first half. I know this because I got the texts from some of them. And I was very, very close myself, but I wanted to see if anyone would respond in the second half as well as whether McCamey would continue to get the shaft from the officials. What I and the rest of the truly loyal saw was the all-time comeback victory for Illinois basketball, 76-74 over #18 Clemson. At Clemson. With terrible officiating (at least in the first half).
Many are familiar with the old cliche, ‘attitude adjustment’ – and this is precisely what happened after the half. The Illini “looked like whipped dogs”, as color radio-man Jerry Hester put it, but that all changed when Demetri McCamey settled the team down against the Clemson pressure and guys started to hit some shots. Of course Clemson also put it in cruise control and played poorly during that stretch, but the last five minutes were back-and-forth and the Illini found a way to make plays. The win, along with the Badgers’ upset of Duke propelled the Big 10 to victory in the incessantly annoying ACC/Big 10. Take that, east-coast biased hoops media.
Five points to your all-time comeback pentagram…
- McCamey is certainly the team MVP at this point in the season. Others may score more, but his ballhandling and game management are absolutely vital to this team – especially against high-pressure defense. Jeff Jordan is good in spurts, but he kept picking the dribble up at half-court. DJ seems to have the skillset but not yet the savvy for the point. When McCamey was on the floor in the second half, you could see his teammates relax and play ball. And for this game, in which he didn’t shoot well and got zero respect from the officials, DMac kept playing, didn’t get down, and found ways to lift the team. Very encouraging.
- More zone, please. The Tigers were blowing by on penetration and the refs were calling a lot of ticky-tacks. Then we mixed in some 2-3 for stretches during the rally. Not only did it screw up Clemson’s rhythm, the Illini maintained their intensity (a couple of steals by Paul and DJ in the passing lanes) and even managed to rebound. If they can play zone like that, Weber should continue to employ it in spots.
- Freshmen start to realize what it takes at this level. After a bad Vegas weekend, Paul and DJ combined for 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists – mostly in the second half. Brandon Paul’s dunk and block will be replayed endlessly during promos for the rest of the year, and DJ’s shot selection continues to impress. Both of the freshmen drove and drew fouls during the second half, which has to continue as well. And their defense was much better.
- Mike Davis owns Clemson. 28 points last year, 22 and 9 rebounds this year, many of them key boards and clutch shots. He played with the kind of intensity and yes, borderline physicality the Illini will need from him – especially during the Big 10 season. He and Tisdale kept fighting down low and continue to show signs of the requisite toughness you need from your front line.
- Team-defining win for these guys. This is a game this group will point back to in March when it’s tourney time, and any time the team finds itself down. It will be a rallying point, much the way the comeback victory over LSU (I think we were down 18) was a talisman for the Flying Illini. College basketball is a game of runs and emotions as much as x’s and o’s, and this victory will mean more than just another W for the Illini.