With the much-hyped ESPN Gameday crew in the house, with a brutal stretch of Big 10 road games looming, and with Illinois in desperate need of a signature win to go on their tournament resume, Coach Weber’s team answered the call with a 78-73 win over the Spartans. What an awesome atmosphere at the Assembly Hall! Wish I could’ve been there…
You can’t blame the fans for storming the floor after the gut-wrenching conclusion of the first Illini win over a Top-5 ranked foe since the Final Four Season. Just like you can’t blame the students and the Orange Crush for not booing Digger out of the building (the Venerable One reminds us why).
Now the Illini need to build on this and somehow beat a few more of the top conference teams to avoid the NIT. Five points to your Gameday Pentagram…
- Once again, D-Mac proves his point. Evan Turner may be the Big 10’s best player, but McCamey is the MVP. The Illini are lost without him. His line of 22 point and 11 assists comes against one of the toughest teams in the land, and further cements him as the best guard in the conference. He made shots and key passes all night, even with Izzo double-teaming and switching Raymar Morgan on him late. Nicely done, Demetri.
- No major droughts = winner. For the first time since the Vanderbilt game, the Illini avoided any lengthy stalls on offense. MSU managed a few nice runs, but nothing overwhelming. Some of this was hitting key shots, and some was forcing key turnovers. That said, with about six minutes to go and up by 7, the Illini had a chance to put it out of reach. Brandon Paul’s open three rattled out, Sparty answered with a three, and Illinois turned it over on two of their next three possessions to make it a nail-biter. There’s room for improvement, but we’ll take the result.
- Jereme and Myers, can you bang down low? Davis, Tisdale, and Cole again found themselves out-muscled under the basket by the Spartans. The two keys here are quickness and lower body strength. I’ve seen Richmond’s athleticism and have no doubts there, but if he really wants to help next year, he’ll need to hit the glass. Ditto for Myers Leonard. I was glad the refs called some fouls early in the second half to prevent MSU from completely slugging us out, but Tisdale still got mauled on the blocks every time he touched it.
- Lights coming on for the freshmen. Paul and Griffey were solid, Richardson was excellent. DJ continues to hit open shots and his defense was very good. Paul rebounded, got to the hoop, and didn’t jack up many stupid shots. Griffey continues to show signs of how good he can be. If the Illini are to have any chance at beating Wisconsin, Purdue, and OSU, these three have to continue trending up.
- Is Mike D out of the doghouse? He had 16 points and a couple of key blocks but only managed two rebounds and was outworked on loose balls by Green, Morgan, and Co. He’s not a post player, plain and simple, but he can hit open shots and handles the ball well for a forward. If he has a decent practice, I expect Weber will have him start against the Badgers on Tuesday. Illinois just needs Davis to stick his nose in and work on the boards. Hopefully his mental block with shooting is behind him now.