Smile Politely

NIT part 1 – Boston

A tree nearly fell in the forest, with no one to hear it.

With under minutes to go and Boston University leading by ten, I was trying to figure out how to write the season ends with loss to tiny hockey school from conference you’ve never heard of story. What positives could I find in such a loss?

The only obvious one was savings on travel expenses. For all other purposes, a loss at Boston would have been catastrophic, especially for Illini team morale heading into the 2014-15 season.

BU’s Terriers displayed something like Bo Ryan’s swing offense, and something like John Groce’s active hands defense, on Wednesday night. The bigs connected from three. The littles knifed through the lane for lay-ups. No one was there to appreciate it, as the only fans among the 1,327 paid attendees were wearing orange. But it was a beautiful display of basketball.

The Illini finished on a 22-7 run. The Terriers panicked, and folded. One team was mentally prepared for tribulation. The other couldn’t withstand it. In that respect, the endgame was identical to last week’s Michigan game. But this time, it was the orange team that withstood the pressure.

The Terriers, who hit 11 threes on the night, had the opportunity to win it with a 12th. Nnanna Egwu missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 27 seonds to go and Illinois leading 64-62. But the Terriers couldn’t get a shot off. They opted to go inside to big (frankly, huge) man Dom Morris. He got spooked, came unhinged, missed the bunny. Egwu rebounded his miss, got fouled again,and swished two free throws with 10.5 seconds to go.

Illinois hit 6-of-9 threes in the second half, and Rayvonte Rice took over the paint. John Groce’s philosophy visibly played out as the team continued to plug away, the emphasis (as always) on execution rather than winning.

Joe Bertrand and Jon Ekey were made available to the media afterward. Being “made available to the media” is suggestive of a good performance. Joe scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds in twenty minutes of action. Ekey had 6 and 3 in twenty-three minutes. The choice to present these two to you, via us, must be at least partially a mental thing, to buck them up. The focus of the team, stated verbally, has been to keep playing for the seniors. Ray Rice mentioned it again and again in the postgame presser.

So now it’s on to Clemson. That game tips at ten in the morning (central daylight) on ESPN.

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