One of my favorite ever moments in sports media happened after Super Bowl XLII.
In that particular game, the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14.
ESPN hosted a postgame panel, moderated by the late, great Stuart Scott and Steve Levy. The panel featured Sean Salisbury, Keyshawn Johnson…and Emmitt Smith.
Emmitt Smith on ESPN never disappointed. But this was his crowning achievement.
He referred to the Patriots as having been “debacled.” Yes, he made the word debacle into a verb. One might say that in this moment he debacled the English language.
I mention this because “debacled” is the only “word” strong enough to describe what happened to the Illini on Thursday in their 80-65 home loss against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Indiana shot 62% from the field. Their star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 35(!) points on 15-of-19 shooting.
By the end of the game, an audible “let’s go Hoosiers” chant could be heard on TV.
This was a not good, bad, very awful, super heinous game. So the quicker Brad Underwood and company can move on from this loss, the better.
Illinois followed up a 12-for-31 shooting first half with a 12-for-31 second half. There is something to be said for consistency.
It took Illinois less than six minutes to give up a 12-0 run against Indiana. The Illini giving up chunk runs has become an all too familiar sight. It’s unbecoming of a conference title contender and a possible drop dead flaw for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. The Illini went over seven minutes without a field goal in a first half bloodbath that looked more like the Northwestern and Penn State drubbings than the recent impressive victories.
Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 26 points, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc. Shannon carried an anemic offense that never truly clicked for any sustained period of time. This kind of offensive alpha dog performance will no doubt boost his draft stock.
And speaking of Illini with NBA potential, RJ Melendez appears to be coming alive after a 4-of-8 performance in which he scored 10 points.
That’s about as positive as the news gets for an Illini squad undoubtedly searching for answers.
Recently minted starter Sencire Harris posted a -16 in 17 minutes.
But the scariest part of the game was the lack of adjustments. In the first half, Jackson-Davis went 6-of-6 from the field and the Hoosiers had five dunks. In the second half, Illinois refused to change their defensive philosophy. Jackson-Davis went 9-of-13 and Indiana had five more dunks.
Was this a stubborn refusal to make a clearly necessary adjustment?
Was this a sign of Illinois missing Orlando Antigua’s prowess in coaching low post play?
Whatever the case may be, the non-adjustments put a particularly vile pock mark on a roller coaster season that appears headed for a trip to the bubble.
Recent wins against Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State showed what this team is capable of on good days. But this is what happens when shots aren’t falling and adjustments aren’t implemented.
They say fatigue makes cowards of us all. Well, malaise makes losers of us all. And perhaps the four wins leading into Thursday night’s game made the coaching staff comfortable. So instead of aggressively moving to rectify the conditions that caused a first half rout, the team came out in the second half with a stunning repeat performance.
One day, the roster construction vs. execution question will have a resounding answer. But on nights like Jan. 19, 2023, the only clear answer is that progress will require a monumental move away from performances like this one.