Listen, over the last week I haven't made any secret about what I was expecting to happen in tonight's game against Gonzaga. Judging by the results of the poll in this post, many of you agreed with me.
And now we taste the most delicious of crow.
This game started off exactly like I expected it to. Gonzaga jumped out to a big lead early, were too damn much for the Illini to handle inside, and hit every single shot they put up. But then this Illini team did what I feared it wouldn't be ready to do in this kind of situation.
They fought back. They did not succumb to their environment. They kept doing what they were capable of doing and worked their way back into the game, tying it as the teams went into the locker room at the half. They then continued that play in the second half, as Gonzaga finally stopped shooting 60% from the floor.
Brandon Paul was the hero, obviously. He had a Brandon Paul game, finishing with 35 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. And it was an efficient 35 points as he shot 10-for-16 from the floor, including 5-for-9 from deep. He also made 10 of his 11 free throw attempts.
This was the kind of game that the Illini needed Brandon to have one of those games if they wanted to pull off the upset, and that's exactly what they did. This is the first time the Illini have beaten a top ten team on the road since they beat Georgia Tech in 1986.
That's a long ass time.
We're for real, everybody. There's still some room on the bandwagon, but get on fast. It's filling up quick.
-- The most remarkable thing is we won even though we were dominated inside. Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Przemek Karnowski combined for 40 points on 22 shots. They also pulled down 16 rebounds. On the flip side, Nnanna Egwu, Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey combined for 10 points on 13 shots with 7 rebounds. It was not a good night down low for the Illini.
-- And fouls were a big reason why. I knew we'd pick up fouls trying to guard Gonzaga's bigs. It was inevitable, but the fouls we took were dumb fouls. Ticky-tack reach in bullshit that you can be mad at the refs for calling if you want, but I'm madder at our guys for giving the refs a chance to call it. If you're going to foul a guy, FOUL A GUY. Don't swipe at the ball. Rake his arms. Keep him from getting the shot up. AND STOP FOULING PEOPLE ON THE PERIMETER, NNANNA. THAT'S NOT WHERE YOU SHOULD BE FOULING PEOPLE.
-- Free throws, man. We made them. Brandon Paul hit 10 of his 11, but as a team the Illini sunk 14 of 17. It was very nice to see.
-- Defense wins. A big reason the Illini were able to overcome Gonzaga's hot shooting in the first half was defense. Hard to believe considering how well Gonzaga shot, but the Illini also forced 10 turnovers in the first half -- Gonzaga finished with 16 -- and we also had 9 steals on the night.