Dig Deep

Feb 3, 2021

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Sometimes, it's just not your night. You best player is having an off night, he's in foul trouble most of the second half, and then he fouls out on a charging call with 2:30 left. Your senior leader gets a technical (for yelling "cash" after he hits his first three) while other taunts on the home team's end of the court go unpunished. Two of your guys foul out, two more have four fouls. You opponent shoots 7-21 in the second half but it doesn't matter because they were in the double-bonus with 11 minutes to go and shot 19 second-half free throws. There are just some things that are too difficult to overcome on the road in the Big Ten. Not our night.


That right there is the kind of win we'll remember for a long time. Down six with 5:00 to go, game slipping away, and Trent hits back-to-back threes to tie it. The offense stagnates after that with Ayo out of the game (Illinois doesn't make a shot for nearly nine minutes) but it doesn't matter because Indiana only makes one shot over nearly a 12-minute stretch (the one made shot - the bad-angle layup to tie it with 30 seconds left). The overtime period starts with Illinois drawing back-to-back charges, Indiana only scores three points in OT (the jumper with 7 seconds left in OT and the free throw with 4 seconds left), and Da'Monte seals the win with two free throws.

That, right there, is digging deep. If the Maryland loss was the kind of loss that might cost you a Big Ten title, this win was the kind of win that might earn you a Big Ten title. Nothing going right, one of those games where the officiating is front and center, Ayo fouls out, WIN.

I want to pause to give credit to the person who put those words into my head. It was this Twitter exchange:

That's it right there, right? 41 fouls at that point (21 on Illinois, 20 on Indiana), no flow to the game, shot clock operators can't get anything right, review after review, one of those frustrating stuck-in-the-mud games, and we dig deep and pull out a win. Load up every cliche'. "That's what the great teams do". "We thrive in crunch time". "Illinois showing the heart of a champion".

And when Curbelo slipped that pass to Kofi and he Shaq'd it to put us up four with 18 seconds left in overtime, man, that's such a great fan feeling. All of these things thrown at us - a technical for yelling "cash", the Ayo charge, Indiana getting to the double bonus in 8 minutes and 56 seconds - and Kofi put this massive "you will NOT take this game from us" exclamation point on the win. On a ridiculous pass from Curbelo.

There' has to be a gif of that somewhere, right? Let me go find some highlights and make one.

Let me tell you what. It is very, very difficult to contain my emotions in press row at a moment like that. It's like there's this electric current bouncing around in my body looking for a place to escape and I have to tense up to keep it inside. There's about 5-7 seconds there where it's touch-and-go, but I'm finally able to fully choke it back. But man, if there's ever been a forward-punching first pump moment this season, that was it.

(Now go watch it one more time just to see Belo's reaction.)

Such an amazing way to close out this game. "You think your fouls and your weak technicals can keep us down?" ~emphatic dunk~

+ Let's talk about the charge call on Ayo. Because I tweeted this...

...and got ratio'd all to hell. If you're unfamiliar with that term, "ratio'd" refers to the ratio of responses to retweets to likes. If it leans heavily towards responses (meaning you said something dumb and people are yelling at you), then you've been ratio'd.

I've seen the replay now, and no, it doesn't look the same was what I saw live. You can see from the photo at the top of this post where my seat was located, so from that angle, I was looking at the play from the side. When I saw the kick to Ayo and his full-steam drive (keep in mind, since he's had four fouls for most of the second half, everything he's done my brain has been saying "don't foul don't foul don't foul"), so when I saw the IU player get his feet outside the circle with the super quick Trent Frazier "get to the spot before he does" charge-draw attempt, my brain is in full-on "no no no no no" right up until the charge call is made.

Watching the replay, the slide and the lean makes it a very questionable call. I don't mind saying "I was wrong there" - I quite enjoy a ratio, actually - but I'd like to note a few things.

One, I was a bit surprised by how personal this ratio got. All this "you're the worst" stuff plus people I've interacted with for a long time saying that this means I've "lost my subjective perspective" and such. I guess it's really hard to explain my Twitter experience without handing you the keys for a game and letting you read my mentions, but I'm always surprised by the "you said this bad thing because {reason}" stuff. Bro, I was at the game, someone said his foot was in the circle, I could see from my angle that it wasn't, so I tweeted "clear charge". On replay, no, not a clear charge, I was wrong.

Two, on my drive to the hotel after the game, I thought long and hard about the benefits of covering a game in person. We do the postgame Zoom press conference, and here I am "covering" the game while most everyone else was on their couch, and.. I think they all had better information about the game than I did? Have we reached a point where a game can be covered better watching on TV than watching in person? Without any in-person press conferences, I think that's... true?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to change. I want to cover every game in person. For the things I write about (I don't really "report" on anything), I need to be there to find the tone. But for someone writing a 550-word gamer, with press conferences available without leaving the couch, I think we've reached the point where in-person reporting has been surpassed by nine camera angles on a 4k screen.

I hope that makes sense. Like, I receive "you're the worst" hate tweets all the time. That's not my point here. I'm saying that the television perspective now so dominates our sports-watching experience that some people on Twitter don't even consider that everyone isn't sharing the same moment. The "HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY SAY THAT??" responses don't even consider the extremely simple "because I'm at the game watching from the corner" answer. I'll learn my lesson and not take stances on something that everyone else has a better view of, but I can't help but think about it: maybe the television experience IS the sports experience now.

+ Let's talk about the Trent technical. Coach Underwood said after the game that Trent said "cash" (apparently directed at the Indiana bench) after he hit his first three-pointer and Kelly Pfeifer T'd him up for taunting. Then, later on in the game, two things happened.

  1. Trayce Jackson-Davis got a dunk over Kofi coming in from the wing. His momentum was carrying him right towards the Illinois bench. He stared right at the bench guys and let out a scream. Quite literally every bench guy and coach turned to Kelly Pfeifer, standing right there, with palms up to say "if this is a 'don't taunt the opponent's bench' game, aren't you going to whistle that?" No whistle.
  2. In the second half, Race Thompson blocked a shot but was called for goaltending. When he blocked the shot, he screamed "gimme that shit" at a few Illini players, nearly identical to what Coleman Hawkins said in the Penn State game which earned him the technical. Again, the Illini bench looked at the officials. Again, nothing.

As I tweeted during the game, I've signed up for the "some games are called like this, some games are called like that" plan. Once the baseline is established - "wow, they're letting them play tonight" or "gonna be one of those hand-check games" - then we go with it. Giving Trent a technical for saying "cash", fine, one of those games. But then you have to call one of those two Indiana plays the same way. Even if Trent turned and screamed "cash" right at a bench player for IU (I don't think he did, but I couldn't see down to that end), then at the very least Trayce Jackson-Davis gets a T for the actual scream at the Illinois bench. That kind of game, call it both ways, if this is a T then that is a T.

But when you see Trent's T but not Jackson-Davis' T, and when you hear what Coleman Hawkins said but also hear what Race Thompson said, I just don't understand why there's no consistency. At the very least, get the officials on a Zoom call (from their couch!) to get them all on the same page with these things. We're trying to have a society here, and "yelling 'gimme that shit' is a technical foul in this scenario but not in this scenario" just cannot stand.

Also, now that I've thought about it, saying "cash" after making a three is never a technical kthnxbye.

+ Massive moment in this game: after one of his and-one dunks in the second half, Kofi misses the free throw. BUT WAIT - an Indiana player jumped in the lane. Kofi made the second-chance free throw. Think that was maybe a big moment in a game that went to overtime?

+ This was the closest press row of any game this year, and I was reminded many time of how hard Giorgi Bezhanishvili plays. He goes and goes and GOES, especially on defense.

Stat of the night: Giorgi played only 16 minutes before fouling out. In those 16 minutes, +23. So let's do some math. Won by 4, so in the 16 minutes where Giorgi played we outscored Indiana by 23 so that means for the 29 minutes where Giorgi wasn't on the court we were outscored by 19?

(It's 3:27 am and I honestly don't know if I did the math right there. But that's pretty crazy if true.)

And I do think it's true. I noted during the game that in the first half the Ayo-Curbelo-Trent-Giorgi-Kofi lineup had a 8-0 run and then in the second half they a 7-2 run. So yeah, maybe that Giorgi stat is true.

+ OK, I didn't realize until I wrote "it's 3:27 am" that it's 3:27 am. I have a signing day press conference at noon and I still have to drive the 2:30 back to Champaign in the morning. So I need to be signing off here. How should I close? Oh, I know.

It has now been 700 days since we last lost to Indiana in basketball. We probably won't play again until January at the earliest, so that number is going to push to 1,000 days. I believe the all-time series is now 93-90 in favor of Indiana, so we just need to add three more wins to this streak in order to even it up.

Let's dig deep and do it.


Ellisrt1031 on February 3, 2021 @ 12:35 PM

If Giorgi was plus 23, must have been on the floor with Curbelo most of the time. Until near the end of the game, Curbelo played extremely well. Then, the beautiful vision on the pass to Kofi. Had a period, called out by Dakich, where he over penetrated or tried to split defenders in a crowd. Overall, give him an A-. Williams, who mostly was just out there, with a big steal and two absolute perfect free throws in OT. Our play at four going to hurt us, very little rebounding except Kofi and Ayo. May see more Giorgi at four which will be a roller coaster ride. He played fairly well tonight.

phytynlini on February 3, 2021 @ 12:39 PM

"I think we've reached the point where in-person reporting has been surpassed by nine camera angles on a 4k screen."

Write off that new Franker set up, my brother!

Illinir1 on February 3, 2021 @ 12:59 PM

Had the team not dug deep it's possible the officiating in this game could have cost us a chance at a B1G title. The Kofi and-one free throw lane violation call got made correctly but only after there was a square dance of players in the lane, a double clutch by Kofi, a launch and miss, then a whistle! I thought they were going to have to go to a review to put time back on the clock because they waited so long to whistle. Officiating like that game can't happen in a B1G game.

Gadwallgetter on February 3, 2021 @ 02:28 PM

Screw the people on Twitter! People are so stupid! What was Underwood screaming after the Ayo charge? He kept holding up his hands like he was showing the refs how big the fish was that he caught. Did BU think the defender was inside the arc? Also I thought Georgi brought the team much needed energy on D especially. I give Georgi credit for keeping us from falling asleep this game! He’s like the rumble strips on the side of the road!

neale stoner on February 3, 2021 @ 03:33 PM

One of your best pieces. Sounds like a number of your Twitter followers need to come out of their Mother’s basements. Keep it up!

holmerica on February 3, 2021 @ 03:38 PM

Vintage Robert. The energy coming off this post reminds me of post-game chats with friends driving home from a great win. Thanks for being there.

The Olaf Rules on February 3, 2021 @ 04:02 PM

Please keep going to the games. You catch stuff with your eyes and ears that the cameras and microphones miss.

IBFan on February 3, 2021 @ 04:23 PM

I like you being at the game. Trent shooting threes video in warmups was Twitter journalism art. So much to the atmosphere and game that the telecast doesn’t catch. Of course all the TV angles makes for debating officiating easier, makes us all experts, but in my opinion being there in person is best. As far as your reporting and dealing with all of us dig deep and do it. Hey good IB store item, “Dig deep and Do it” merch.

skibdaddy on February 3, 2021 @ 05:23 PM

Robert... Please don't stop reporting what you see! It's super important for us, especially since we can't be there too!

Just change how you phrase it... like "Looked like a charge from where I was sitting". I think you'll get much less hate from that type of response than anything that you put out there that implies fact (since truth doesn't exist in our society anymore).

IlliniBobLoblaw on February 3, 2021 @ 06:25 PM

Screw the people on Twitter!


Just change how you phrase it.


Then again, there's something to be said for employing a "conflict avoidance" strategy if it makes your life (and ratios!) better.

AGig21 on February 3, 2021 @ 07:58 PM

great article. Somewhat off topic but I'm going to say this game and believe it or not the Maryland game are going to prove to be very important to this team and will show how good BU is. I believe he is the kind of coach who is willing to put a game at risk in order to teach. He saw how the M game was going and yes he wanted to win but after was thrilled to use it to teach. This game too, he will use it to teach us to play w/o Ayo, play thru a bad officiated game and for Andres to learn to reel it in when necessary, for DW to realize he's very vitale to this team and for JG and GB to know how much they can contribute. I still have a friend or two that question his hire which is beyond me. BU is the real deal.

blackdeath on February 3, 2021 @ 09:34 PM

illinisludge on February 4, 2021 @ 03:26 AM

Glad I don’t use Twitter. And keep up the good work

Norcal Illini on February 4, 2021 @ 06:06 PM

When I turn on a game, one of the first things I do is check who the refs are. No matter what the official line is, it matters. Looking over the box scores this year, Rob Riley has done three of our games: Rutgers, tOSU and at Indiana. Kelly Pfeifer was teamed with him for Rutgers and Indiana. The first and third games Illinois was called for 26 fouls and 20 in the tOSU game. Other than the Mizzou game, only the second PSU game had more than 15, and Pfeifer ref'd that game. Refs like Boroski, Szelc, Kimble and Scirotto have a reputation for letting them play while Riley and Pfiefer tend to call more fouls, especially when working together. So, next time you see Riley and Pfeifer working together, you can expect an ugly game.

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