Go grab your New Years champagne and pop it early. Pop it into your own face and douse the orange and blue bruise in the bubbly. Have a good night because, fellas, we just beat Indiana.
The Hoosiers came into this ballgame as the biggest question mark in the conference, at least in my mind. Zeller, Oladipo, Watford, Hulls, a No. 1 ranking and legitimate national title hopes departed after last season, leaving Yogi Ferrell, Sheehey and whole bunch of mystery. And somehow, Yogi answered just about every damn question.
As pointed out in the preview, Indiana moves quick. As overlooked in the preview, Yogi doesn't miss, ever. He finished with 30 points, five rebounds and four assists, keeping Indiana in the game despite 24 turnovers. The biggest play of the afternoon may have been Tom Crean and Indiana not allowing Yogi Ferrell to take the final shot of regulation. Instead, it went from buster to buster, fired up weekly, and fell down softly. That's what you call some sharp Candy Pants basketball.
Prior to the end of regulation was a second half brimming with runs and momentum shifts. Indiana stretched their lead to 7 at about the 11:30 mark. Illinois answered with layups from Kendrick Nunn, Jon Ekey and Tracy Abrams, as well as three straight defensive stops. From there on out, the lead for either team never extended past four points. For a large stretch, it was tied.
Nnanna Egwu played one of his more interesting games. Not necessarily great, but certainly intriguing, which lies mostly in the dozens of opportunities he had to put Indiana away. With 57 seconds left, Egwu again had another opportunity--a wide open three at the top of the key. Illinois was leading by two at this point. But the story of the afternoon had an agenda to keep, and there was no room for Nnanna 3-balls. He bricked that one, just as he bricked all five of his 3-point shots today.
After the miss, Indiana dribbled up and called timeout. On the resulting inbounds play, Rayvonte Rice got called for a touch foul, rewarding two free throws to Yogi and the Hoosiers. The refs played a role in this game, and they played a role at the end of regulation. At the time, I was fuming, screaming soccer dad cliches, like, "Let the boys play." Illinois couldn't take the lead on the next possession. Indiana couldn't win it on the final possession--overtime.
And in overtime, victory. Of course, the all-day brick layer Nnanna Egwu knocked down two free throws to ice it.
-- Rayvonte Rice tallied 29 points and eight rebounds, and he did it somewhat queitly. What a monster. No one can doubt him in any aspect of the game. He's bested all opposition, which now includes Big Ten opposition.
-- The all-time series between Indiana and Illinois is now tied, 85-85.
-- Tracy Abrams is playing the best basketball of his Illini career, and I can't help but credit some of that to the presence of Rayvonte Rice. Rice could probably credit some of his success to Tracy, as well. The two feed off each other. One drives on play, the other drives the next. One dribbles it up, one takes the shot. Illinois has a couple of studs in these two. Today, they combined for 46 points. Tracy Abrams last four game point totals: 16, 22, 16, 17.
-- My theory on Joseph Bertrand used to be one of momentum and confidence. If Bertrand hit his first shot of the game, he'd go back to it. When he'd get hot, he'd take over for a brief, but powerful, couple of minutes. But if he missed a shot, or if he went cold, then he'd disappear. That theory is a whole bunch of nonsense this year, and I feel like a fool. Bertrand has continued to drive to the hole despite misses and blocks. He gets involved on rebounds and defense, he pokes balls away from Yogi Ferrell. Bertrand's rebound at the end of overtime is one of the biggest plays of the game.
-- Kendrick Nunn played the best of any freshman. He finished with seven points and three steals, two of which came during the crazy, hectic and stressful second half. Maverick Morgan deserves a shout out as well for contributing with two baskets while filling in for Egwu.
-- John Groce, go crazy, you beautiful man. Groce got himself a T, he got himself a near face-plant and, most importantly, he got his team to go and beat the Indiana Hoosiers. Hooooorah!