Unbelievable! Lions bite Illini
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Home loss ends 33-game home win
[FEB. 6, 2006]
CHAMPAIGN -- Saturday night at the Assembly
Hall, the unthinkable played out. Illinois coughed up a 16-point
second-half lead and lost to conference bottom-feeder 66-65 in front
of another sell-out crowd. As the horn sounded, Springfield's Rich
McBride nailed a 3-point basket that would have given Illinois a
two-point victory. However, as the officials huddled at the scorer's
table, it became clear that the basket would not be allowed. Sure
enough, head official Eugene Crawford waved off the basket (and call
appears to be the correct one) and Penn State began the celebration.
Just Friday, you probably read in the LDN how some know-it-all
sportswriter all but promised that the final four home games of the
season would be victories. Who was the guy? Oh yeah -- it was yours
truly. I obviously should never make such statements. But, friends,
it was inconceivable to envision a top 10 team losing at home to a
team with just two conference wins on the year.
So, the question
for the Illini and their many fans is this: Where does the team go
from here? In the afterglow of an impressive 15-point road win at
Wisky, how can a top 10 team cough up a double-digit second-half
lead against Penn State? My answer is this: I have no idea. This
much I do know, however: There are many positives we must not allow
one loss to destroy:
Illinois still has a
sparkling 20-3 record on the year.
Illinois is 6-3 in
conference play and has two road wins.
Illinois' RPI is
still very good.
Illinois is still a
lock for the NCAA tourney.
Illinois is beginning
to get regular contributions from players like Rich McBride and
Shaun Pruitt -- a very positive development.
[to top of second column]
However, we must ask some tough questions today, including:
Why did Illinois quit
going down low, even though they had a major height advantage?
Why did Illinois seem
to quit playing to win and instead falling into the trap of
playing not to lose?
Why did Illinois
launch so many 3- point baskets?
Where was the vaunted
great defense and great rebounding the last 10 minutes of the
Did Illinois fall
into the trap of playing down to the level of competition?
Can Illinois rebound
with a week off ahead of a tough road test -- at Ohio State
against the very strong Buckeyes?
I think the season can go two directions from here. The Illini
could regain their focus and come out on fire Sunday at Ohio State
and erase any nightmares of Penn State. Or, the players could pout
and find themselves down 15 points early Sunday -- destined for a
So much is left to play for this year. My hope is that the
seniors will lead, the players will commit to excellence, and
Saturday night will be nothing but a distant memory come Big Ten
tourney time in mid-March.