Perhaps you’ve heard...but the Fighting Illini are in the midst of a pretty difficult stretch of five consecutive games against ranked-ish teams. It hadn’t gone well — a seven-point loss at No. 17 Iowa, followed by a disappointing loss at home to No. 9 Maryland.
The Orange & Blue — with Illini legend Deron Williams in attendance — had a chance for revenge at home versus Michigan State, which crushed Illinois by 20 at the Breslin Center in early January.
This time the Illini overcame a 20-point deficit, holding a lead in the final seconds. But No. 22 Illinois couldn’t complete the comeback, losing 70-69.
The sold-out Champaign crowd was a non-factor in the first half. Our Favorite Broadcaster Dan Dakich mentioned during the ESPN telecast that he’d never heard 15,000 fans be so quiet. I’m admittedly torn about this. On the one hand, you absolutely should support your team if you go to a game — hoot, holler, yell, scream, swear, complain about calls, hold up some heads on sticks, whatever floats your boat. On the other hand, what exactly was there to be excited about? Shouldn’t the team give the crowd an actual reason to be loud?
The Illini trailed 37-20 at halftime. They shot 8-of-31 in the first half. They were 2-for-7 from the FREE THROW line. Was that the fans’ fault? Absolutely not. This game started the way the Maryland game ended. The atmosphere in the building noticeably changed in the second half, but it took about 30 minutes of game time for the Orange Krush to really sound like the Orange Krush. #NotIdeal
Man... I really hate writing this. Giorgi Bezhanishvili is a great teammate, an unselfish player, loves being at Illinois, and seems like an absolute joy to be around. But he has been objectively terrible at basketball for the past month, and especially during this losing streak. He takes way too many bad shots, makes way too many casual passes (Brad Underwood even talked about it after both the Iowa and Maryland games), and has been a liability on defense. He played only 13 minutes Tuesday night before being pulled midway through the second half. Maybe removing Giorgi from the starting five would be the best thing for him right now.
They Want The Smoke
Ayo Dosunmu & Andres Feliz have become a fearsome combination late in games. ESPN’s Molly McGrath noted that Ayo saw the stat sheet at halftime and said “that wasn’t good enough.” It appears he meant what he said. Ayo & Dre combined for 27 points in the second half, took control when Michigan State’s Cassius Winston was out of the game due to foul trouble, and helped spearhead a 22-4 run to give Illinois its first lead with under six minutes left. Both are unafraid of the big moments and can be trusted late, win or lose. With that said...
Please Be Okay
Ayo was attempting to drive to the hoop in the final seconds when he slipped on the court and lost the ball. In real time, it was hard to see exactly what happened. After watching the replay, you saw Ayo’s knee buckle and could likely hear every Illini fan collectively gasp. He has given the Illini everything he’s got for the past two years, so you’re left feeling numb when your team’s best player gets hurt. Obviously, the rest of Illinois’ season would be vastly impacted if Ayo is seriously injured. But the future well-being of the player himself is far more important than wins and losses. Even the most frustrated and cynical fan should feel the same way. Get well soon.