Smile Politely

Sad times in Happy Valley

The Illini played one hell of a game for 36 minutes Thursday night. Put another way, the Illini played nine-tenths of one hell of a game Thursday night.

Illinois maintained a lead for 39:59:07 of Thursday night’s game. Put another way, Illinois lost, 64–63, Thursday night in State College, Pa.

Mike Davis neither hit the front end of a one-and-one nor speared the rebound for a game-winning putback. With 8.4 seconds remaining, Talor Battle sprinted the length of the floor and scored, capturing a W in a game that Illinois had safely tucked in its pocket.

It was as if the Illini wrote an invitation to Penn State, offering to hand over victory.

Battle accepted the invitation. And so as to not force Illinois to actually pull points off its own tally, he graciously scored a basket. The win gives the Nittany Lions clear title to all claims over the Illinois Fighting Illini. (Anyone seeking to do business with Illinois is advised to check in with the PSU Lions, to ask permission.)


A very short person marvels at Talor Battle’s ability to maneuver a
rubber ball through a metal hoop.

It’s of little consequence to our team. We don’t have the consistency to win six in a row against increasingly good competition. We’re already “in” the NCAA tournament. So Thursday’s loss means only two things:

1. Illinois will have double-digit losses this year.

2. Illinois will have to continue to ask Penn State’s permission to go to the bathroom or speak out loud.


In practice this week, Bruce Weber brought the team together to talk about the importance of seeding. Illinois will enter the Big Ten Tournament unranked and on a slide. The team is now fighting for a six seed in the NCAAs. They probably won’t fall as far as the dreaded 8–9 game. They will continue to do exactly what they’ve done all year: surprise us. Sometimes this quality is a good thing.

So, I think I’ll root for Northwestern to win the Big Ten Tournament. Never is a long NCAA drought.


Now, to the assigning of blame. It’s not Trent Meacham’s fault. He didn’t make any shots, but that’s not what killed Illinois. It’s not the officials’ fault, either.

Chet Frazier must bear as much as Mike Davis for failing to hit a free throw in crunch time. Illinois continues to practice free throws at Ubben, but it’s hardly a point of emphasis. Every once in a while, Coach Weber breaks up the practice and announces that it’s free throw time. Each individual stands in front of a basket and shoots ten. At Tuesday’s practice, Mike Davis made them all. (Bill Cole hit two.) There is no specialist to watch and correct technique. Every once in a while the team also has shooting drills.

Frazier and Davis aren’t to blame. They are merely convenient.

It’s Bruce Weber’s fault. When, oh when, will Bruce Weber change his offensive rebounding tactic on free throws? How many losses will it take?

Just curious.

With under ten seconds to go, Mike Davis on the line, and a one point lead, Weber decided to put a guy on the block (just in case). This must be regarded as progress. In the past, Weber put no one in position to get a rebound. When Davis’ 14-footer glanced off the rim, it went almost exactly to the place an Illini would have been standing if there had been an Illini standing there.

Weber nearly lost the Illini game at Purdue in the same fashion. Luckily for us, Mike Davis was the rebounder on that play, and he couldn’t hear Weber’s admonition to give away the ball to the other team without trying.

As far as in-game coaching acumen, that play was merely the capstone to four minutes of hard-earned failure. Illinois lost because it played stall ball. Again. Disregarding previous results.

The team effectively shut itself down. Up by ten with five minutes to play and both PSU big men out of the game, Illinois deflated the basketball and waited for the Nittany Lions to catch up. Two critical missed free throws, the aforementioned shrug-off of a possible game-saving rebound, and Ed DeChellis could safely celebrate his first NCAA tournament bid at State College.

Las Vegas celebrated.


Stanley Pringle was the sand in Illinois’ Vaseline, scoring 20 points on his 22nd birthday. I hope he had a fun celebration. I’d hate to think of him all by himself on his birthday.

For the sake of credibility, it’s important to identify good and bad calls by the referees. Some fans don’t care about credibility. They like calls which favor their teams. For everyone who says the goaltending call against PSU was bogus, you are wrong. The ball was not merely in the cylinder, it was physically on the rim. On the other hand, Calvin Brock did not get off the put-back before the shot clock expired.

Mike Davis has contracted Bruce Weber disease. Weber has a strange eye rolling tendency. It manifests itself when he’s within a few feet of reporters. He makes eye contact, but doesn’t hold it. Davis has started doing that, too. I noticed it the other day when I was interviewing him at the Ubben.

He also did it just before shooting (and making!) the first of Illinois’ two free throws, around the 14:00 mark of the second half. Watch the replay on and you’ll see what I mean. News-Gazette reporter Paul Klee pointed out that Davis’ experience with Bell’s palsy might have something to do with it. But whatever the cause, it’s weird.

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