For the first 18 minutes of the game, all pistons fired for Illinois.
Continuing a trend seen in losses to Penn State and Wisconsin, the Illini employed more sets and isolations, more simple pick n’ rolls. Rather than passing around the arc, occasionally flashing toward the high post; guys like Mike Davis are now cutting to the basket.
The sluggish “motion” offense metamorphosed to a new dynamic. The butterfly took wing.
But it’s delicate, too new, too frail. Two minutes before halftime, it crawled back into its cocoon. Illinois hung on for the win, but there was no poetry in the motion.
Callers to the WDWS postgame show joined the vast online conspiracy, pointing to a momentum-stopping time out following Brandon Paul’s amazing block. They all questioned Bruce Weber’s timing and instincts.
Is it more evidence that helicopter coaching doesnt’ work? Was the first half better because Weber can’t hover over his team’s every move?
The Illini didn’t expand their eight point lead. They saw it halved. It’s because Brandon Paul and Jereme Richmond got sloppy.
Those two scored about half of their teams points, each lording over one half of the game. Therefore, their combined brain fart will be – from this point forward – overlooked.
MSU shot 37.5%. Guards Keith Appling and Korie Luscious were 1 of 5 and 1 of 8 respectively.
But the Spartans speared 18 O-bounds. Delvon Roe occasionally had to use Mike Davis as a stepladder.
Moreover, Appling and Luscious smothered Demetri McCamey in the second half, holding him to a single field goal.
So basically, the game was what its score indicates. Close, intense, a good battle.
The butterfly did not morph back to the slug. To strain the metaphor, I’ll call the second half a moth. Jereme Richmond kept battering himself at the spotlight. It was gritty, and not pretty.
That might be the best aspect of this win. It was more like wrestling than ballet. Not everyone was on, and not everyone was off. They meshed their skills, synergized their parts, made it work.
Bruce Weber is a genius until further notice.
Mike Davis made consecutive free throws for the fifth time this season. He and McCamey willed themselves to double-doubles. The right team won, everybody got laid, and lived happily ever after until next time.