How is that possible, you ask? It is possible quite simply
because Illinois had to have this game. Had the Illini lost, and
they have coughed up a few this season, they would have placed
themselves firmly on the bubble. In fact, that bubble probably
So yes, there were too many turnovers... 17 if
you're scoring at home. And yes, the Illini did not shoot the ball
well. Yes, they had some breakdowns and some mental errors along the
way. Yes, Illinois shot only 37 percent from the field and only 24
percent from downtown, including a paltry 10 percent from distance
in the second half. Heck, they may not have even looked good in
BUT, they did what they had to do. They did what they came there
to do. And that was to get a tough, nitty-gritty win on the road in
the trenches of Big 10 play, and that's exactly what they delivered.
There is a saying in the Great White North that the folks up here
usually use when describing a similar less-than-pretty win during
the hockey season. They'll say something like, "The boys really
grinded it out last night." And nothing could be more apropos to
describe Illinois' huge win at Michigan last night than that.
Demetri McCamey led the way for Illinois with 14 points, four
assists and a career-high nine rebounds... talk about a guy coming
into his own. The reappearing Mike Davis tallied 13 points and 12
boards, while Mike Tisdale delivered nine points and a solid
11-rebound performance. And D.J. Richardson chipped in eight points
while doing a decent defensive job on the talented Manny Harris.
One thing Illinois did right was win the rebounding battle 50-35,
and that may have been the difference in the outcome.
[to top of second column]
But I don't mind telling you that I was worried about this game
going in. In fact, I had been worried about it for at least a couple
of weeks. It didn't help when everyone seemed to already chalk it up
as a win long before it was played. I've seen Sims and Harris, two
of the best players in the Big 10, play before. I've witnessed them
having monster games. I also figured that they'd be fighting for
their lives in this contest.
Going in, I knew this was a single, with no return
game in Champaign. I also knew that the Men in Orange had played a
pretty decent game at Purdue and had just come up a little short.
When you play those back-to-back games on the road, you don't
usually have quality efforts in both games. In other words,
sometimes you just have to find a way to put a big fat "W" on the
left side of the ledger... or even a skinny "W." Illinois did that
last night. Sweet!
Illinois now has three games left in league play.
They will host Minnesota at home on Saturday, then travel to Ohio
State for a Tuesday night clash in Columbus. They will finish the
conference slate by entertaining Wisconsin at home a week from
The victory moved their overall record to 18-10 and
their league mark to 10-5.
Something I'm not excited about is the stark
possibility that the Illini will have to turn around and face Bucky
Badger again in their first game at the Big 10 tournament. However,
there's plenty to worry about until we get there. Maybe we'll grind
out a few more wins. If that happens... that will be sweet!
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
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