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Monday, Jan. 12

Teacher beats student prediction as Illinois is slowed down by Purdue

By Greg Taylor          Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 12, 2004]  As I sat down for lunch Saturday to celebrate my niece's 9th birthday, my mom asked about my thoughts concerning the Illinois-Purdue game to be played later that day. I stated confidence that Illinois would win, for three reasons.

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 bit.

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 Big Ten.

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 two attempts.

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 afternoon game.

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 State.

 

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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 Saturday.

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)

  • at Penn State 64, Ohio State 47

  • at Wisconsin 77, Michigan State 64

  • at Minnesota 57, Princeton 53

  • Indiana 59, at Michigan 57

[Greg Taylor]

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