I'm guilty of it. You're probably guilty of it. A basketball player's worth is found in how he plays on the offensive end. Bad offense? "Coach, get him out of there." Da'Monte Williams has heard about 500 coach-get-him-out-of-theres this season, and that's from the State Farm Center crowd. Well, Da'Monte won the game tonight. On the defensive end.
Let's just go through the final two minutes after Minnesota cut the lead to one. Giorgi hit two free throws to push the lead to three and was subbed-out for Da'Monte. And then:
01:16 MINN X - Missed jumper by MINN #5 Carr, Marcus
01:13 MINN RO - Offensive rebound by MINN #25 Oturu, Daniel
01:13 MINN T - Turnover by MINN #25 Oturu, Daniel in the paint
01:13 Illini S - Steal by Illini #20 Williams, Da'monte
00:46 MINN F - Personal Foul on MINN #22 Kalscheur, Gabe
00:46 MINN OUT - Substitution OUT: MINN #22 Kalscheur, Gabe
00:46 MINN IN - Substitution IN: MINN #42 Hurt, Michael
00:46 Illini XF - Missed Free Throw by Illini #11 Dosunmu, Ayo
00:46 Illini R - Deadball rebound by Illini
00:46 Illini 1 51-55 H 4 Made Free Throw by Illini #11 Dosunmu, Ayo
00:39 MINN X3 - Missed 3PT jumper by MINN #30 Demir, Alihan
00:39 Illini B - Block by Illini #20 Williams, Da'monte
00:39 Illini R - Defensive rebound by Illini #21 Cockburn, Kofi
00:36 MINN F - Personal Foul on MINN #1 Williams, Tre'
00:36 Illini 1 51-56 H 5 Made Free Throw by Illini #11 Dosunmu, Ayo
00:36 Illini 1 51-57 H 6 Made Free Throw by Illini #11 Dosunmu, Ayo
00:36 MINN OUT - Substitution OUT: MINN #30 Demir, Alihan
00:36 MINN IN - Substitution IN: MINN #35 Ihnen, Isaiah
00:20 MINN X3 - Missed 3PT jumper by MINN #1 Williams, Tre'
00:20 MINN RO - Offensive rebound by MINN
00:18 MINN X3 - Missed 3PT jumper by MINN #35 Ihnen, Isaiah
00:13 Illini R - Defensive rebound by Illini #20 Williams, Da'monte
00:08 MINN F - Personal Foul on MINN #35 Ihnen, Isaiah
00:08 Illini 1 51-58 H 7 Made Free Throw by Illini #10 Feliz, Andres
00:08 Illini 1 51-59 H 8 Made Free Throw by Illini #10 Feliz, Andres
Yeah, he can't buy a bucket. Yeah, he's a offensive liability. But he won this game. Daniel Oturu is about to go up for a putback to cut the lead to one and SWIPE Da'Monte takes the ball away. Ayo hits one of two free throws, it's a four point game, Alihan Demir rises for a three pointer that would cut the lead to one and SWIPE Da'Monte blocks the three pointer and Kofi grabs it. Ayo is fouled, hits both free throws, Minnesota comes down and misses a three and SWIPE Da'Monte grabs the rebound. He dishes to Feliz, two more free throws, it's over.
I'm a fan. I sit here sweating on press row, but I'm a fan. (Side note: came as close as I've ever come to saying something from press row tonight. Saw what looked like was an obvious travel on Minnesota, loaded up "WALK!" in my brain, and was about to yell it when I remembered where I was.) Anyway, as a fan, who covers the team, I find myself pulling for the players more than the average fan. I want to write their stories. And I'm so excited to be writing about Da'Monte. The Frankie of defense.
I re-watched the Michigan game the other night when I couldn't sleep - Da'Monte was so good on defense. I'm gonna re-watch this one a few times because I'm starting to understand defense (thanks, Tyler) and I'm starting to understand how Trent and Da'Monte have really stepped up the defense on opposing guards. If you're wondering why neither Purdue nor Michigan could get a clean look at a three, go watch our guards on defense.
(HA! My phone just lit up with some Twitter notifications, I pull up Twitter to see this video of Underwood and Da'Monte. Awesome.)
At the end of the Michigan game, you can hear Ayo call "game" while his shot is in the air. Well, tonight Da'Monte called game.
Steal, block, rebound, game.
+ I tweeted this after the game, which usually removes a thought from my brain, but I still can't get over being 8-2 in the Big Ten. As I said in the tweet, go back to Thanksgiving and tell me "Illinois is going to go 8-2 in these 10 games":
at Michigan State
And as someone quickly responded, we were a 35-foot heave by Maryland from going 9-1. Undefeated at home, beat Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan on the road, seven game winning streak - just unbelievable.
It doesn't get any easier, mind you. The next three games: at #18, home for #15, home for #14. 1-2 is still a solid run through those three games. But maybe I should start dreaming of 2-1. Or maybe 3-0?
(I tweeted this PSA earlier today but I'll put it here as well. Tonight's game sold out just based on walkups. Maryland already sold out and Indiana already sold out. If you're thinking of going to the Michigan State game, buy tickets tomorrow because it will sell out soon. Indiana tickets are already $90 on Stubhub for the top row so... just act now. Trying to save you $75 per ticket. You're welcome.)
(Also, arrive early. It was hard to get into the parking lots tonight. There were long lines to get in. Illini fans are behaving as if their team has just won seven consecutive Big Ten games, so.. plan accordingly.)
+ Kipper was Good Kipper tonight. His four offensive rebounds (all in the second half, right?) were so huge. So he didn't score. I hear there's other ways to impact a game.
I should note that Andres Feliz was great as well. I sit here and I watch that little - I'm not sure what to call it, step-back layup? - and I think that teams will be able to defend it. But he always gets it off. And with such soft touch as well.
Rebounding was huge in general in this one (Illini held a 45-36 advantage). The rebounding leaders? Kofi with 10, Feliz with 8, Da'Monte with 7, Kipper and Giorgi with 6.
There are other ways to impact a game.
+ So Illinois has won the last three by shooting lights-out (at Purdue), by getting a heroic performance from our superstar (at Michigan), and then defense and rebounding when shots aren't falling. This seven-game winning streak is as "find a way to win" as I can remember. I'll just top-of-my-head sum up the seven wins.
- Purdue - absolute lock-down defense in a blowout
- at Wisconsin - five consecutive threes to end the game and stun the home crowd
- Rutgers - win a slugfest with Ayo taking over
- Northwestern - outlast Northwestern when some random guy goes off for 20
- at Purdue - hit absolutely every shot imaginable
- at Michigan - Ayo called game
- Minnesota - Da'Monte called game
And now at Iowa on Sunday, home for Maryland on a Friday night (weird), and then home for an Orange Out against Michigan State in a game that, if we go 1-1 in those first two games, might end up deciding the Big Ten?
Get your tickets now.