First, Illinois has lost only one home
game over the past three-plus seasons. Second, Purdue has not looked
good as of late, especially on Wednesday in their loss at Iowa. And
finally, I really felt Illinois was simply a better team.
My mom said this game scared her death
-- she went so far as to say Illinois would not win. I told her she
was crazy -- let me do the basketball predicting and don't worry one
And early on, I had to admit, mother
knows best! Illinois looked really sluggish at first and found
themselves down 7-2 in the first five minutes of the game.
Illinois didn't look ready to go, and
the sportswriters in our row wondered if the pressure of mentor
versus protégé had encompassed the Illini camp. Don't forget,
Illinois coach Bruce Weber worked 19 years for Purdue's Gene Keady
and referred to him this week as his "second father." Many wondered
how much of an advantage the mentor has in such matchups. Rick
Pitino, for example, is 18-1 all-time against his former assistants.
Much was made before the game about how
important it was for Illinois to play at a pace they dictated --
upbeat. The Illini seemed to try to push the ball too much early in
the game, forcing bad shots and missing chances to convert.
Illinois's struggles continued in an ugly game early, and halfway
through the first half, the Illini found themselves down 15-6 and
unable to capitalize on several scoring chances. Six points in 11
minutes will not win you many games at any level, much less in the
Illinois tried to get back in the game,
going on an 8-0 run and sparked by strong inside play by James
Augustine, drawing within one at 15-14, but Purdue responded quickly
and upped the lead to six at 20-14.
At this point, Illinois had been
whistled for eight fouls, and the visitors from Indiana had only
been called for four -- a sure sign Keady has not lost his touch!
This was illustrated for everyone to see when, during the first
half, Keady screamed at referee J.D. Collins, saying, "I want you to
call a foul on Williams!" You guessed it, next time down, away from
the ball, Williams gets called for a touch foul. This would be
repeated two other times throughout the game, and Weber made
reference to it in the post-game press conference.
Keady is still the master at
intimidating the heck out of the officials. I personally can't wait
to see him go, because in the world of Big Ten basketball, the
meaner and more profane you are, the more likely you are to get
calls from refs like J.D. Collins!
Illinois ended the half on a 6-2 run
and trailed at the half by only two, 22-20. Illinois was paced in
the first 20 minutes by James Augustine's 10 points (he also had
seven rebounds), but the Illini shot just 34 percent for the half
and failed to connect on six 3-point basket attempts. The Illini
also failed to score from the free-throw line, missing their only
Purdue had to feel good at the break,
as they were able to control the tempo (slow down the game) and
really "ugly" it up -- something that enabled them to upset
then-No.1 Duke early in the year at the Alaska tourney and almost
knock off Oklahoma on the road in Norman, Okla.
The second half began with Illinois
making two 3-point baskets in the first couple minutes of the half.
The second, by Dee Brown, gave Illinois their first lead since 2-0
and caused Keady to burn a timeout. Illinois led 30-29, and many in
the Assembly Hall were fired up for the first time on this late
The timeout looked golden, as Purdue
responded with great perimeter shooting from their big men and
regained a three-point lead at 38-35. Illinois answered back and
grabbed a 42-40 lead before Purdue went on a 6-0 spurt to lead 46-42
with eight minutes to play. As the teams took the eight-minute media
timeout, Purdue looked to be in really good shape, and Illinois
appeared to be in danger of losing their first game at the Assembly
Hall since Super Bowl Sunday 2002, a six-point loss to Michigan
[to top of second column in this
Out of the timeout, Illinois committed
back-to-back turnovers, Purdue's David Teague hit a 3, and it looked
like Purdue was ready to hammer a couple of nails in Illinois'
coffin. Deron Williams tried to bring Illinois back, making three
steals over a three-minute period, but Illinois continued to
struggle to convert, and a 5-0 -- something that looked so probable
heading into today's game -- was slowly slipping away. Illinois
trailed 51-44 at the final media time, and with under four minutes
to play, it looked like another miracle was needed.
Augustine scored on a lay-in for the
Illini, and the boys in orange got a stop on the other end. But
Williams missed a one-and-one free-throw attempt with 2:01 left, and
Purdue quickly called timeout. Two Illinois fouls later, Boiler
Austin Parkinson went to the line with a one-and-one and nailed both
shots. Illinois tried to respond with late 3s by Dee Brown and Deron
Williams but couldn't catch up, and Purdue knocked off Illinois
58-54. No more Saturday miracles for the Illini!
Saturday, I learned three things about
the current Illini team:
1. Illinois needs Luther Head back
sooner instead of later. His athleticism was sorely missed
2. Illinois may not be as good as I
thought they were.
3. Never argue with my mom! She knows
more about basketball than I thought.
Illinois returns to action Wednesday on
the road against Northwestern. Game time is set for 7 p.m., and WCIA
will televise the action.
Illini news and notes
Illinois was forced to go with a
seven-man rotation once again, as junior Luther Head sat out his
second straight game due to repeated traffic violations. The
Illini really missed Head, especially late in the game when they
were playing catch-up.
Head could return to action
Wednesday on the road at Northwestern.
Augustine was huge -- another
double-double -- with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Several Illini fans were screaming
unkind comments at coach Weber toward the final seconds of the
game. Typically, I brag on the Illini Nation for their class,
but this really turned my stomach. Weber tried several times to
adjust, but the players just didn't have it on this day. I have
no doubt former coaches Self and Kruger would not have been on
the receiving end of such comments, and I just cannot understand
why fans are so hard on Weber.
Purdue dominated Illinois from the
foul line, going 14-16, while Illinois, even though they were
playing at home, attempted just six free throws -- making three.
Six free throws? Keady still has it!
Illinois had won four of their last
six against Purdue, but prior to that, Purdue had won nine
straight in the series.
Road underdogs won three of the
five conference contests this weekend. Our friend John Coady is
a genius -- he told me Wednesday to get ready for several more
road victories than usual in conference play this season.
Penn State and Wisconsin are tied
for first place at 2-0. Penn State?
In other games this weekend:
Northwestern 77, at Iowa 68
(first game of the conference
season won by the visiting team)
State 64, Ohio State 47
Wisconsin 77, Michigan State 64
Minnesota 57, Princeton 53
Indiana 59, at Michigan 57