As the game-clock dipped below 20 seconds, and the beaten Irish forced another stoppage, a weary Andre Curbelo limped away from the Illini bench and propped himself against the wall of State Farm Center’s lower bowl.
His eyes weren’t glazed, but they lolled from side-to-side in the way that Andre Curbelo’s eyes loll for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because he’s just owned an opponent. Sometimes he’s just told a joke. This time, as in recent days, it’s because he wasn’t feeling well.
He was tired. He was ready for the game to be over. Most Illini fans were ready for the game to be over. The game was, in fact, over. But Notre Dame hadn’t stopped pretending, yet.
Belo had stopped pretending.
In the first half, he was excited, sociable. By the end, he just wanted it to be done.
Belo has an expressive face, and the way he expresses himself is not American (except for the fact that Puerto Ricans are Americans, despite their lack of representation in Congress).
As with Kofi Cockburn’s genuousness & sensitivity, Belo’s demeanor is disarming to Midwesterners. We’re accustomed to hating people. Our chosen news sources and algorithms have not prepared us for moments when we’re asked to assess the humanity & vulnerability of fellow humans.
It works for us when analyzing Da’Monte Williams. He’s a legitimate badass. He’s from Peoria. His entire identity is directed by his intensity.
It doesn’t work when we’re trying to understand our Californians, of which we have three. It doesn’t help us to understand our Caribbeans, of which we have five.
If you’re as cynical as I am, you could read the last few days/weeks of Illini tribulations as a script that Brad Underwood concocted in preparation for the viral video of his postgame speech to the team, in the locker room, after all of them overcame injuries and gastrointestinal distress just long enough to dispatch Mike Brey’s lanky leprechauns.
We’re living in an age of conspiracy theories, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many Illini fans disbelieve everything that’s factual about the current state of Illini basketball.
But even the facts, for those interested, aren’t immediately available to the insiderest of insiders. Brad Effing Underwood didn’t know his starting line-up 44 minutes before tip-off.
He named this 82-72 win among the best in his career.
Yes, he’s hyperbolic. Yes, he’s a fabulist. But despite AI, deep fake technology and Elite, Elite prose; Brad Underwood has no power to invent the legitimate quandary that’s stymied his team for two devastating/empowering weeks. The knee bent. The vomit projected.
The team overcame.
It’s a wonderful narrative, and it offers even us cynical writers a George Bailey moment.
But then we realize that Steve Pikiell has analyzed all of Monday’s video, that Belo appears to need Chicago’s finest neurologists and that Trent, back or not, still can’t shoot.