Last night was a must-win game for Illinois, and for whatever reason that added pressure made them collapse. Down by as many as 13 against Purdue last night, Illinois pushed hard to come back but failed to get the W in the end. A panicked 3-pointer from Brandon Paul that could’ve tied the game didn’t fall, and the Illini lost at home 62-67.
Illinois was already teetering on the brink of the NIT, and now it looks to be almost certain for their post season fate. As for Coach Bruce Weber, we’ll get to that. With six games left on the schedule and only two at home, Illinois really needed this win to boost their confidence as well as their resume- and it just didn’t happen.
Turnovers and missed 3′s (they shot .14% behind the arc) were the main problems, as well as simply that overall feeling of desperation that the season was slipping away. We allowed Robbie Hummel to nab another double double (19 points, 11 rebounds), and Meyers Leonard was a point shy of matching that pace with 9 points and 11 rebounds. After the game, Weber called out Leonard for not playing with the sense of urgency necessary. This was an important game, and he was walking up and down the court was essentially what he said.
One small glimmer of hope came from Tracy Abrams, who obliterated his previous career-high 9 points by shooting 22. He had just 1 assist though, which is really where he needs to be contributing. Look at me, I sound like Weber criticizing while sort of praising! Regardless, he is just a freshman and demonstrated that he has a lot of potential to grow.
Paul had 19 points, but 4 turnovers. And I swear I’m not blaming that last shot on him at all, it’s not his fault (aside from turnovers) alone that the game was so close, and he was hoping to recapture the magic of the OSU game and that can’t always happen. Then there’s DJ Richardson, who had 2 steals but contributed 0 points. Just imagine, 10 points from Richardson (or even just 5) could’ve been the difference.
Here we are with a 16-10 record and games coming up at OSU, Wiscy and Nebraska, as well as a home game against Michigan. All of these are most likely going to be losses. Even if Illinois gets away with a win at Nebraska, they’ll need to win at either OSU or Wiscy and then win at home against Michigan and Iowa – and then it’s still not a sure thing. I’d say go ahead and kiss the Tourney goodbye.
As for Bruce Weber, he knows that his time is up. He sounded defeated in his press conference last night, but he took the blame for all that has happened. Take a look here:
My heart is broken that this is the way it has to be, but I am a believer that now is the time to respectfully part ways. Andy Katz had a great comment this morning that the Missouri Valley Conference would snap him up in a second. I believe that to be true, and I know that Weber is going to be fine. He is a wonderful guy, and he would do well in a low-pressure situation where he can develop players and create a nice little legacy. Nothing would make me happier than to have Weber’s MVC team be the Cinderella of the Tourney and make it to the Final Four.