The Bullseye Gets Bigger
The night started with two unbeaten teams in college basketball and almost ended with none. On a night when Boston College lost their first game of the season, the Illini pulled out a come-from behind win on the road and handed the Michigan Wolverines their seventh straight loss in conference play.
Credit Michigan with giving Illinois one of their toughest games of the year. The Wolverines game plan was clear from the beginning and they almost executed it to perfection. Coach Tommy Amaker determined that his short-handed team couldn't run with Illinois, so on offense they spread the court and went deep into the shot clock on every possession (ESPN frequently displayed the number of times they went under ten seconds on the shot clock). On defense, they stuck with a zone and gambled that the Fighting Illini couldn't beat them from the outside. It almost worked.
After jumping out to leads of 16-6, 18-8 and with 8:47 left in the first half they led 23-15. The Illini then went almost 12 minutes without a field goal and ended up trailing 24-28 at the half, only the second time they trailed at half-time all season. Early in the second half the Illini found themselves behind by eight points. Then, Dee Brown took over on defense.
Brown stole the ball on three consecutive Michigan posessions and converted them all for lay-ups. The last was a three-point play that put the Illini ahead 42-41 with 7:54 left and they would never trail again. From there, Illinois poured on some style points with Brown going behind his back to James Augustine for a dunk and Luther Head feading Deron Williams for an alley-oop dunk.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Illinois' performance was their apparent willingness to settle for jump shots. Exactly half of their 48 shot attempts in the game were from behind the arc and they made less than 30 percent of those. Illinois showed little ability or desire to get into the paint, despite the cold shooting night from outside.
Although they shot poorly, the Illini did a lot of things well. They only turned the ball over five times in the entire game and their eight steals were the difference between their 24th win and their first loss. The Illini also showed a remarkable resiliency. Despite the fact that the three starting guards played 117 of a possible 120 minutes coming off one day of rest, they seemed to get better as the game went on. Most impressive was that, once again, the Illini showed that on any given night, any one of the five starters can beat you. Tonight it was Dee Brown. Tomorrow night it might be Roger Powell (who had nine rebounds tonight).
The media have turned in a few recaps and most of them focus on the performance of Dee Brown. Sports Illustrated
. CBS Sportsline here
. FoxSports here