A loss is going to come at some point, but not tonight.
This was not a perfect game for our Illini, and don't let that final score fool you if you didn't see the game. It was much closer than that 13-point deficit, as we pulled away at the end, but we needed Joseph Bertrand to save us before we could do that.
The Illini trailed 58-54 with six and a half minutes to go before Bertrand just took over. In four possessions he went layup, trey, trey and then finished with a spectacular layup that needs to be seen to be believed. See for yourself right here.
From that point on Georgia Tech seemed resigned to the fact that it wasn't going to win this game. Though it could have.
Tech exploited an area of the Illini that is going to be a weak spot the entire season. They dominated the Illini down low on both offense and defense, blocking a number of Illinois shots at the rim. Daniel Miller finished with 5 of Tech's 6 blocks in the game as both Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin remain too passive under the basket.
Luckily the Illini were able to overcome their size deficiency the best way they know how: by shooting the hell out of the three. We finished with 14 three pointers on the night, one shy of the Assembly Hall record and two shy of the team record. D.J. Richardson finished the night hitting 4 of his 7 threes, while both Bertrand and Tyler Griffey went 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
-- Let's cherish our free throws. Since we are such a perimeter-oriented team we are not going to get to the free throw line all that often. So when we do, we really need to make them. The Illini got to the charity stripe 18 times tonight, but made only 7 of their attempts. And before you go thinking about how terrible it is to shoot 39% from the line -- particularly when you're shooting 50% from three! -- you should know that we were actually 2-for-9 at one point before going 5-for-9 in the final minutes.
-- Turnovers are still a concern. The Illini turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, which is why they only led by 1 point at the break despite their hot shooting. The good news is that there were only 2 turnovers in the second half. Still, you can't afford that many turnovers in a half because you're not going to shoot as well as the Illini did tonight in every game. Great shooting covers up mistakes.
-- Problems down low. Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu did not play well against Gardner-Webb, and tonight the duo combined to shoot 4-for-10 for 8 points. Not terrible, but it could have been better. We're not a team that is going to get a lot of low-post points -- miss you, Meyers -- but as I said above, when the opportunity is there, McLaurin and Egwu need to attack the rim with confidence. If for no other reason than you're more likely to draw a foul.
-- Joseph Bertrand is awesome. He just is.