Smile Politely

Illini solution: Make shots

There’s not much difference between Sunday’s impressive win at Columbus and Wednesday’s record-setting loss to Penn State.

Against the Nittany Lions, Illinois attempted 50 shots. At Ohio State, they launched 48. On Wednesday, 16 of those attempts came from beyond the arc. On Sunday, the Illini launched 17 times from three. Illinois cleared 32 rebounds against PSU, and 29 versus OSU. In the loss, Illinois committed 13 fouls. In the win, it was 14. The steals stat was even, three per contest.

It’s the same with individual stats. On Wednesday, Mike Davis played 37 minutes, and speared nine rebounds. On Sunday, he played 38 minutes and collected eight. Chester Frazier finished Wednesday with five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one personal foul. Sunday, he collected five rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one foul.

The difference in outcomes is simple, but ultra deep and profound if you’re using the right kind of drugs: The shots went in on Sunday.

OSU’s Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner, an astute observer of the game, figured it out. “They didn’t miss many shots. They hit big shots, key shots, with the buzzer going off.”

Illinois barely won on the road. And yet, for stretches it seemed as though they couldn’t miss. The Illini nailed 9-of-17 from three. They shot 58.3% overall. That’s the nutshell. Make shots, and you win.

The victory reignited the Illini engine. You can see the renewed will, the returned swagger, simply by comparing photos of the players taken after each of the last two games. For example, compare Mike Tisdale and Chester Frazier’s postgame pictures:

Tisdale after PSU             Tisdale after OSU          
Frazier after PSU             Frazier after OSU 

Conversely, the Illini performance aged Ohio State coach Thad Matta like a rural Vermilion County meth fiend.   
   Matta on Friday           Matta Sunday night


Chester Frazier shoots roughly the same percentage from distance as did Richard McBride. But national media, who get paid a lot of money to read press releases into microphones, continue to refer to Frazier as a non-shooter. They persisted in calling McBride a 3-point specialist. And if you didn’t know it, Nick Smith is the tallest player in Illini history, and the Illini will try to establish Brian Cook in the middle.

Trent Meacham continues to improve his lane-driving capability. In the last two games, his drives have come up empty on occasion. But the aggressiveness is good to see. Also, he’s shown the ability to break down the defense as the shot clock approaches expiry.

Bruce Weber’s pre-game “inspirational” speech was recorded and broadcast by CBS. I’d rather not go into detail, but it recalled the “fist speech” of April, 2005. Tape over it. Don’t allow it to seep into your consciousness.

With this road victory over a team ranked as high as 15 this season, Illinois guaranteed themselves a winning record in Big Ten play. You may consider them a lock for the NCAA tournament.

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