Illini Wonk
Sunday, March 06, 2005
  So this is what losing feels like...
...Illini Wonk had forgotten. A plethora of circumstances converged to finally be more than the Illini could overcome. Much will be written about the poor shooting of their three starting guards (combined 8-28), but this game was lost for another reason: a lack of effort. Their were several things that revealed the lack of effort:

For the entire game, Illinois was content to stay on the perimeter. They only drew five fouls in the second half, because no one was agressively taking the ball to the hole. When the outside shots weren't falling, they didn't have anything else going on. Were it not for second-chance points, the game could have been ugly.

I know it sounds cliched, but Ohio State simply wanted it more. There were two plays that typified this. The first came with 3:30 left in the game. Luther Head had a rare foray into the lane and dished it to James Augustine who dropped the ball. But, that wasn't the problem. The problem was his lackadasical pursuit of the ball that allowed a Buckeye to poke it away...toward Dee Brown where the second poor effort resulted. Brown, instead of diving to the floor for the ball (the possession arrow was in Illinois' favor) reached down to pick it up while Foster dove and got the ball. By the time Brown did go to the floor the Buckeyes already had posession and he was called for his fourth foul.

The other lack of effort came from Deron Williams on the final shot of the game. With the Illini up by two and under 10 seconds left, Williams allowed his man to have an uncontested look from the three-point line and, well, you know what happened.

Matt Sylvester, who came into the game averaging 7.4 points per game, torched the Illini for 25, including the game-winning shot. It also continued a very troubling pattern for the Illini. Typically, Illinois hasn't had trouble with traditional post-players (although Dials redeemed himself a little today for the awful game he had in Champaign earlier in the season) and they have been able to shut down great guards, including Chris Paul and Justin Grey of Wake Forest. The players they seem to have the most trouble with are big, slow power forwards like Missouri's Linas Kleiza, Iowa's Greg Brunner and now Sylvester.

The big thing now will be to see how the Illini respond. In order to lock up the #1 seed in the tournament, they will probably have to win the Big Ten Tournament. Had they won today, the conference tourney probably would have been irrelevant. Illini Wonk will have more later today.

CBS, who carried the game, has a recap here. CBS Sportsline's Gregg Doyel was at the game and offers some much-needed perspective for Illinois fans.

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