Find A Way

Jan 11, 2020

"But we're so young." "But we only have four players returning from last year." "But we overhauled the entire roster and that takes time." These are some of the things I said last year. These are not things I will say this year. We're in NO BUTS territory.

I'm basing this off a tweet I sent out at halftime. This is not a call-out or anything - I just want to point to where I'm at and why this win was so important. Here's what I tweeted:

6 for 31
six for thirty one

At home against Rutgers, after beating Wisconsin on the road, and 6 for 31.

-- Robert (@ALionEye) January 11, 2020

And here was one of the responses I received:

This Rutgers team is 12-3 and longer than what we've seen this season.

-- Cam Newton, Bears QB in 2020 (@Sam_Pille) January 11, 2020

And this was my response. Again, not a call-out - just trying to lay some groundwork:

They also lost to St. Bonaventure on a neutral court and are currently missing Geo Baker. This Rutgers team is a bubble team at best, and we're losing to them at home.

We're in "no buts" territory. Find a way.

-- Robert (@ALionEye) January 11, 2020

I didn't really expect my emotions to shift this much once we reached that "2.5 years" mark that I talk about all the time. But we're now officially in the second half of Year Three and that's where I find myself. Yes, there are #reasons for some of the things that are happening, but I'm 100% at "FIND A WAY" right now. And, it must be noted, we found a way.

(To be fair to "Cam Newton, Bears QB In 2020", he did clarify and say he agreed with the second part of my tweet - he was just pointing out that we're a sleepy starting team and they're a muck-it-up defensive team. I'm simply using his tweet to set up how I watched this game.)

How I watched this game: find a way. No excuses. No "we got back late from Wisconsin on Wednesday and had a bad practice and this is an early game on Saturday". Find a way. Other people were tweeting me that Rutgers is a Quad 1 team in the NET rankings and this was going to be a battle. I just don't accept that. Rutgers, who I believe to be a wrong-side-of-the-bubble team ultimately - was missing their star (Geo Baker). And, most importantly, this is a Big Ten road game. I don't care about anything besides us finding a way to win when we're playing this poorly.

We found a way. And mostly we found a way because the preseason First Team All Big Ten selection Ayo Dosumnu played like a First Team All Big Ten player. When a game is going like this - one team shooting 34%, another team shooting 29% - it really should come down to your Guy. Our Guy took over, their Guy is injured, we won.

Like, he took over took over. It was tied, and then, 57 seconds later, Illinois was up by six and the game was over. The plays in there:

  • Ayo beats his guy, takes it to the rim, gets fouled. Hits both free throws to put Illinois up 2.
  • Rutgers gets called for a moving screen, Illinois ball.
  • Ayo dishes to Trent for an open three, Trent misses, Giorgi gets the rebound and sends it back out top to Ayo. Ayo drives to the rim and scores. Illini up 4.
  • Young from Rutgers misses a jumper, Ayo skies for the rebound (like, SKIES). He's immediately fouled, hits both free throws, Illini up 6 with 37 seconds left, game essentially over.
  • Wait it's not over, Rutgers hits a three so it's still somewhat in doubt. We get the ball to Ayo, he's fouled, he sinks both free throws again, now it's really over.

That's everything you want in a game like this. That's how games like this used to go in this building. Everyone plays a clunker here and there, so you turn to your Guy and you ask him to rescue you from the clunker. We'd turn to Kendall Gill or we'd turn to Kiwane Garris or we'd turn to Frank Williams or we'd turn to Deron Williams and we'd ask them to bail us out. And they always bailed us out.

Today, Ayo bailed us out. His second half stats (just the second half):

16 points on 4-7 shooting, 1-1 from three, 7-8 from the line, 4 rebounds, 2 assists

Our Guy took over, we won. And now, despite shooting 28.6% from the field in this one, we're 4-2 in the Big Ten (solo 2nd place) with a week off and then last-place Northwestern coming to Champaign. Get to 5-2, maintain 2nd place, and then a chance to really make some noise at Purdue or at Michigan.

+ Of course, we, uh, we still can't shoot the basketball. And I hear that's important.

18 for 63 today (in a win!). 2-14 from three. There are two "shooters" on the team and they were 1-9 (Griffin) and 1-8 (Trent). You shooters go 2-17, your team shoots 28.6%, and you win?

How did we win? Well, we played solid defense (Rutgers shot 33.9%), we rebounded (Kofi had 17), and we got to the line late. Well, "got to the rim" is probably a better way to put it. Ayo and Feliz got to the rim and either scored or drew the foul and went to the line. That's where the game turned. I'd have to go back and look, but I think the only two jumpers in the final eight minutes were the three from Griffin (which he made) and the three from Trent (which he missed). Everything else was either Feliz or Ayo getting to the rim (one time dishing to Kofi for the dunk).

BUT (ha), that won't work on the road. We had to hit five consecutive shots to close out a one-point win at Wisconsin (four of them threes). If we want to win on the road, we'll have to do that several more times. Do we have it in us?

+ As I'm sitting here typing I heard the postgame radio show over the speakers and I ~think~ I heard Underwood say that Andres Feliz found out this morning that his grandmother had passed away. If that's true (I'm 96% certain that's what I heard), then what a second half performance. Just like the Grand Canyon game, he helped take over down the stretch. And to do that right after finding out his grandmother had passed away? Props to you, Dre.

+ If we go to the Tournament this year (it's early, but right now we're probably in as a 9 or 10 seed), then we'll probably look back on this week as the point where it all clicked. A Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule and we do this (using the current NET rankings for this):

  • Beat Purdue (45) in Champaign 63-37
  • Beat Wisconsin (32) in Madison 71-70
  • Beat Rutgers (21) in Champaign 54-51

By the end of the year, I'm guessing the Rutgers ranking is in the 50's and the Purdue ranking is maybe a little higher. But still - three solid opponents, three wins, we've now put ourselves squarely in the bracket. Now, please keep it up.

And learn how to make the ball go through the net when jumping and releasing it on an arc-like trajectory towards the basket.


rml on January 11 @ 03:08 PM CST

Based on what I saw today, Rutgers is for real, and will be solidly in the tournament.
Of course, if everything was based on how they played us, Arizona is a final four team.

thegoah on January 11 @ 04:40 PM CST

Just to clarify, in case I’m missing something important...because I feel like I’m missing something important.

“If the season ended today, Illinois, [the 2nd place team in the consensus best conference in the country] would be a 9 or 10 seed.”

I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I feel like this statement needs some elaboration.

thegoah on January 11 @ 04:47 PM CST

I guess you didn’t say “if the season ended now”, you said “right now, we’re...” This is the fundamental problem I guess with midseason bracketology. I just found the “B1G 2nd place = 9/10 seed” a bit odd.

Is top 4 B1G sustainable? It sort of looks like it doesn’t it? If not for crapping our pants at the end of Maryland we’re 5-1 with only the loss at Sparty.

Seems like this team has huge variance on how it could finish. The shooting is soooo scary but the defense is really inspiring.

Giovantischixstripz on January 11 @ 06:52 PM CST

Yea because right now B1G games only account for 35% of our games, and in the other 65% we did not perform very well. If we manage to stay in the top 4, that probably means going at least 13-7, probably 14-6 in conference, which means we'd be looking at like a 4-5 seed probably.

thegoah on January 11 @ 10:09 PM CST

That resolves my question nicely. Thanks.

AHSIllini32 on January 11 @ 08:09 PM CST

You need to enjoy these wins a little more Robert. Today wasn’t a great shooting day by any means but Rutgers does that to teams. To say “they’ll be in the 50s” by the end of the year is ignoring how well they’ve played this year.

jdl on January 11 @ 08:30 PM CST

Yeah, Rutgers is probably a bit better than you think. Pikiell is a good coach and they have some athletes.

The Olaf Rules on January 11 @ 10:57 PM CST

Rutgers is 11-0 at home, and I honestly could see them running the table with the way they defend.

IBFan on January 11 @ 11:01 PM CST

Rutgers beat Seton Hall and Penn St, plus others(note the large number in the win column). You can watch the game and see how incredibly hard these teams were playing for second place in the current standings. This was a Tourney level game as far as intensity. This was a very good win especially after a very good and draining win AT Wisconsin. Throwing shade at Rutgers trying to mimimalize the work this team has done seems unnecessary. Revamping the entire defense and most of the offense, incorporate new center, move GB to the four, etc etc. Not to mention the first top 5 win since(?), the First win at Wisconsin since(?), 2nd place in the toughest conference, best starting conference record since(?), surviving Ayo’s brief sophomore slump to start this year, Tevian out, BV injury, coach change....oh yeah we lost to Missouri so we are a 9 or 10 seed and don’t play good enough for you. Got it.

danny on January 12 @ 06:51 AM CST

IBFan: Beautiful. Totally agree with you.

thegoah on January 12 @ 10:41 AM CST

Robert may underrate Rutgers a bit, but remember Geo was out and we were at home so basically it’s one we HAD to have if we want to dance. I think that was his main point, and I don’t think many can argue it.

I’d have devoted more than a bullet point to Feliz though. Ayo finished the game, true. I felt like Feliz kept us in a position where finishing was possible. I felt like he was the star of the game when it looked like Rutgers could pull away.

Speaking of, I was wondering if one of you basketball guys who, like, understands plays and defensive systems could explain to me how Feliz could just walk in for a layup or a pass dunk whenever he wanted there in the 8:00-2:00 mark in the 2H after everything had been shut down all game. TV announcers seemed to call it the transition game but iirc only one of them was in transition. There were like 3 or 4 others out of sets. What changed? Personnel? Defense? Offense? These are the sorts of questions I wish were asked at post-game pressers but I feel like reporters don’t ask them bc they don’t want to be looked at like they don’t already know. I’m happy to proclaim my ignorance of it means someone will explain it to me.

jdl on January 12 @ 07:53 PM CST

They handled Nebraska on the road and beat PSU without Baker. He's a decent player but no all star. Jacob Young has filled in for him and probably played better than Baker would have with 4 3 pointers.

The difference with Feliz seems to be in the first half we were trying to get the ball inside to Kofi on the post, so it was congested on his drives. In the second half, the bigs did more screening instead to open those driving lanes.

Norcal Illini on January 12 @ 04:04 PM CST

In keeping with Robert's rant on the refs in Madison, did anyone notice that Terry Oglesby was one of the refs in the Mizzou, MSU and Rutgers games, probably our three worst offensive games of the season? I've tended to like him in the past, but I thought we lost the Mizzou game at the end of the first half when our guys were getting fouled but nothing was called. He was the lone B1G ref along with two SEC refs. I know these guys work in multiple conferences, but we never see the other two. I always pay attention to who refs because I think it matters. For example, I think we tend to do better with Bo Boroski refs our games. I don't think it's favoritism, just their style.

There were only 29 fouls called yesterday (only 12 against us, so maybe Rutgers has a beef), and it seemed like the refs (Wymer and Beaver, too) were letting a lot go. Kofi didn't have any fouls after almost fouling out against WI. It's hard to shoot well when you're being fouled all the time. That could explain all the bunnies we missed.

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