Feel like celebrating after Illinois’ 64-57 win?
Happy they beat a ranked team?
Go ahead. Enjoy it.
In a lot of ways, it was an improvement on the last couple of games.
In one very important way, it was not. The Illini tried to puke on their shoes again, but Maryland refused to be outshittyed. The Terps saw our bad pass, and raised us a kick it out of bounds.
Where Ohio State and Michigan took advantage, Maryland fainted.
By this point in the season, all Illini fans and perhaps even John Groce have figured out that one very important way. Groce made major and minor changes on Wednesday, to forestall that way of losing games.
Malcolm Hill buried most of his shots, just like he usually does.
Jaylon Tate moved the ball, and exploited defensive weaknesses, just like usual.
Nnanna Egwu hustled to fill every gap, just like he always does.
The obvious difference between this game and astonishing collapses at Ann Arbor and Columbus is this: When Illinois offered the opportunity for its opponent to crawl back into the game, it got no response, until it was too late.
Enough changed for Illinois to win.
Enough stayed the same for Illinois to win.
Maryland clearly didn’t want to win. But because Mark Turgeon is an excellent tactician, Maryland nearly completed a miraculous comeback.
At one point in the second half, the Terrapins were shooting 40% on free throws. They finished at 56%.
A late barrage from three raised the Terps’ long-range percentage to an admirable 43%. For most of the game, Terp shots dented the rim from all distances.
Jaylon Tate’s free throws — combined with Kendrick Nunn’s and Ahmad Starks’s refusal to panic — saved the game when Turgeon’s tactics threatened a third consecutive collapse.
John Groce did enough with rotations — and especially with constant defensive switches — to allay new-found accusations of managerial incompetence.
Ahmad Starks shot his traditional 1-for-x from the floor, as did Aaron Cosby.
But Starks’s game was among his best as an Illini.
Using speed, strength and floor vision; Starks keyed the second-half pile-on by exploiting advantageous spacing, with timely passes, a steal, three rebounds, and a fuck y’all attitude toward Maryland’s antagonistic trash talkers.
Cosby was not as awful as every statistic, comment & write-up will suggest. He contributed some good things.
Still, he made little argument from the “players play players” perspective, which John Groce continues to preach while largely failing to practice.
Interesting back-and-forth between Mike Eades and John Groce, throughout the night.
The two spent some time together in the tunnel at Miami, after the game. Groce remarked then that Eades is a good official. There’s obviously a rapport between them.
As the touch fouls accumulated against Illinois (mostly whistled by Terry Oglesby), Groce demanded that the Illini get a call next time a Terrapin breathed on him too hard.
“John!” Eades exclaimed, getting the coach’s attention. “We got the message.”
Groce’s next apoplexy came when Ahmad Starks was not awarded two shots when fouled while passing the ball. “John, he was passing the ball” Oglesby explained. Courtside fans joined in the nonsensical, misguided harassment.
I prefer to reserve referee criticism for those moments when the referees are obviously wrong, rather than when they’re obviously right. It just seems more logical, and credible.
Illinois won this game because Maryland coughed up this game. That’s fair. Illinois coughed up its previous two B1G contests.
Naturally, dominance would feel more satisfying. But at this point, in a season on a brink, one takes what one can get.
John Groce continued to allow freedom to his players, did not blame them for his shortcomings, and did not fail to provide them with a game plan while simultaneously criticizing them for not having a game plan.