Smile Politely

Margin for Error

The first 37 minutes of Thursday night’s game? Anyone remember what happened?

Most Illini fans will remember the last nine-tenths of a second for years, and probably the rest of their lives.

Fewer will remember the hero of the game: DJ Richardson scored eight consecutive points between 2:46 and 1:19, willing the Illini back from a deficit that hovered around ten points for most of the game.

An “instant classic” happens in crunch time. The rest of the game can be sloppy, or just not very compelling. Illinois @ Indiana, the 1989 version, was not an especially pretty game. Because it’s a “classic,” you can watch it once-per-week on the Big Ten network, and see how not pretty it is.

If you haven’t seen it lately, you probably don’t remember much about that game, except for the last two seconds. Bardo’s pass was great. Nick executed Henson’s play just as Lou drew it. You could hear Lou in the huddle “one bounce, and shoot.”

Brandon’s pass seemed easier in the delivery. It was the waiting that required nerves of steel.

See how easy it is to fixate on the last minutes? I just did it myself. But really, I want to  talk about the first few minutes. Illinois trailed the Hoosiers from the get go, in all but two crucial statistical categories: turnovers, and points.

Indiana ran out to a 6-1 lead in turnovers. Consequently, Illinois maintained a slim margin in the points category. Indiana also led in rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point field goal percentage … you name it. Indiana dominated the Illini, except for ball control.

Illinois is lousy at ball control. They also can’t shoot straight. That’s why they stood 2–7 at the halfway point of conference play.

By halftime of Thursday’s game, the Illini had caught up with Indiana at six turnovers apiece. With ten minutes to go, they were down by fourteen points. Indiana was cruising.

The Hoosiers got sloppy again. The dagger came with seven seconds to play. With the game tied at 72, Indiana had the ball in its half-court. Whatever happens, Hoosier fans were undoubtly thinking, we can’t lose in regulation.

Then Victor Oladipo dribbled directly into DJ’s web.

The Illini finished with ten turnovers. Indiana had 14. Illinois hit 13-of-15 free-throws. Indiana was 13-of-14. The Illini hit 9-for-24 on threes, or 37.5%. Indiana also made nine, in seven fewer attempts.

There was no margin for error. And indeed, when Tyler Griffey’s arms revulsed from the ball with .2 seconds to go, that instinct saved the game. If he’d dunked the ball, as he wanted to do, forget it. It’s overtime.

What happens next?

Does Illinois turn the season around? Lose five straight? Win out?

I don’t know. You don’t know. They don’t know.

Let’s just enjoy the moment.

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