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Monday, Feb. 6

Unbelievable! Lions bite Illini     Send a link to a friend

Home loss ends 33-game home win streak

By Greg Taylor

[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.

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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 game?

  • 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 road loss.

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.

[Greg Taylor]

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