I needed a minute or two to let my heart rate and frustration level lower before I wrote this recap. But I'm writing with the stronger-than-subliminal thought that anger could surface and saturate this whole piece. I'm not happy. I'm proud of the effort, but son of a bitch, that isn't enough.
First. full disclosure. I ranted after the first 10 minutes of the game.
The beat writers leave blanks, because they're forced to. Let me fill them in. We are bad. We are f---ing awful. We aren't fun to watch.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 2, 2014
I love Illinois and with every fiber of me, I hope they turn it around. I'll support them forever. But this is a truly bullshit performance.— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 2, 2014
It was that bad. The texts flowed in to my phone from friends and collegues, but they may as well have been from my own mind.
We look like a damn high school team out there. We're so overmatched.
We really suck.
The pace and effort in the early stages of the game was truly atrocious. Every one was bad. Everyone. The failures of the team were so immense, that you couldn't begin to evaluate the play. It was bad, and that's all there was to it.
BUT THEN.....WE PLAYED WELL!
"Well" doesn't do it justice. Illinois kicked ass, consecutively for 25 minutes, led primarily by the freshman. Iowa did their best to kick our asses right back, and what emerged was one of the more entertaining Big Ten games of the season. The Orange Krush was finally back from winter break, and their hype brought it all to another lever.
A special type of Illini basketball emerged in that time frame. It was a style of play I hadn't seen yet, and, honestly, it was a style I didn't know we were capable of. In most games this season, our offense has seemed simple. Occasionally, that simplicity has bred success, through drives or 3-pointers. Other times, the simplicity has been a damn launching point of rage. "Throw the ball inside. Pass. Dammit, Pass!"
Tonight was neither, and it was beautiful. I can't help but credit it to the freshman, They jumped around with energy, passed through drives, and found the cutter. They rebounded aggressively, found the outlet, and attacked. They knocked down jumpers. They gave the future a bright light. After falling behind by 21 points in the first half, the Illini led in the second half.
The lead ner cemented itself, since Iowa plays a fine brand of basketball. They fought back from every deficit and made leads near impossible to surmount. Still, Illinois did it. There was pride on that court tonight. A whole bunch of pride, and I'm still proud.
But I'm also hurt. I'm bleeding. Riding the rollercoaster with team is too stressful for the uninitiated, so thank goodness for my Illini calluses. Bertrand played maybe his best game of the season with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, but he committed a deadly turnover down the stretch. Tasked with righting his wrong was Jon Ekey, who had a wide open 3-pointer soon after. And he airballed. And the Illini choked it away. And the Illini lost.
Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate sparked the comeback, and they were pulled down the stretch. No matter your allegiance to the seniors, this move is inexcusable. Groce addressed it in his press conference.
#illini Groce: Right now, freshmen are getting minutes they're getting. "I'm sticking with" vets. Can't be wishy-washy.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) February 2, 2014
I completely disagree. The late-game players cost us the game, and those players were the "vets." We're now in a 7-game losing streak. Why would we "stick" with anything?
Please chime in with your opinions in the comments.
- Only one note: Ouch. Damn. Shit. This one hurt. I think it's the worst pain I've felt on the season. No other loss had a singular fall this steep, dropping us from proud and true, to losers yet again. This was our best game since Braggin' Rights--and we didn't win. Worst of all, I don't credit it to Iowa. If we keep our heads and stick to the play we've established for 20 straight minutes, we win.