Be careful what you wish for. We all wanted to see the Illini in a tournament game this year. On Friday we got it, and god damn if it didn't nearly kill every single one of us.
Fools, we are. Fools who thought that a 16-point lead at halftime somehow meant that we were safe and well on our way to an easy victory and a date with Miami on Sunday. We forgot who this team is and how it operates.
It's not just here to play basketball, it's here to play basketball while lowering the average lifespan with devastating efficiency.
The Illini would come out in the second half and just live up to every single stereotype about this team this season. All they did was jack up three after three after three after three after three after three after three after three and missed every single damned one of them. Suddenly it was the Illini that looked like the young team, the one without three seniors on the court, and they were panicking. Like a swimmer struggling against the current, they flailed and kicked harder only to be sucked out further from the beach.
But then a strange thing happened. Colorado couldn't maintain its 150% shooting percentage in the second half. The Buffaloes started to miss some shots, and then the Illini started to play defense again. Amazingly this led to the Illini playing better -- not good, better -- offense in the final ten minutes and disaster was averted.
I think I died nearly four times today, but the Illini won.
Now we have to do it all over again on Sunday.
-- Were the Illini trolling Bruce Weber in some weird way? Kansas State trailed La Salle by 18 at halftime today and in the second half La Salle managed three field goals yet somehow held on to beat the Wildcats and knock Weber out of the tournament. Well, the Illini had a 16-point lead on Colorado at halftime. Know how many field goals they made in the second half? Three.
-- Colorado's defensive strategy was to focus on Brandon Paul, and as far as Brandon Paul is concerned, it worked. Brandon made only three of his 12 shots and was 2-for-8 from three. He finished with 17 points thanks to making nine of his 10 free throws, but many of those came in the closing seconds when Colorado was trying to extend the game. Paul needs to play better on Sunday if we're to get to the Sweet 16.
-- I said in the preview that we needed D.J. Richardson to step up, and he did. D.J. finished with 14 points thanks to four threes and had five rebounds, but he also turned the ball over four times. Of course, he didn't play nearly as well in the second half, but who the hell did?
-- Nnanna Egwu started the game as our entire offense. When this team couldn't hit a shot it was Nnanna who hit his first three. So why did he only take three more?
-- As terrible as the second half was, there is one area in which we cannot complain. Colorado is a solid rebounding team, and Andre Roberson averaged 11.3 rebounds a game this season. Well, the Illini did not allow Colorado to dominate the boards today, and that helped keep us in the game during the dry spell. We'll need to continue that on Sunday against Miami because the Canes can rebound too.
-- Joseph Bertrand was 0-for-2 with three rebounds and two points. We need you, Joe. This team isn't making a run without its bench, and you're the bench.
Points per possession: 0.85
Turnover rate: 17.8%
Free throw rate: 46.2%
Points per possession: 0.76
Turnover rate: 23.4%
Free throw rate: 25.5%