Now that certainly wasn’t the headline I wanted to write. I was hoping to use the words slaughter, trounce, annihilate, crush, something along those lines. The Illini never led by more than 10 points last night, and in the end only beat the Catamounts 72-64.
While I’m not shocked that the game was close, I am concerned. What’s going to happen when they go into Gonzaga on Saturday? Will their confidence be shaken? Although, the Illini had no problem coming back to handily beat USC in Hawaii after almost losing at Hawaii earlier in the week.
Shots were not falling last night, and it was the only second game of the season where the Illini didn’t make 10 3′s (they had 7 while Western Carolina had 9). Luckily, strong defense and the fact that Western Carolina isn’t a good team kept the Illini on top for most of the game. Western Carolina never led, but they did tie up the game late in the second half.
Brandon Paul led the Illini with 14 points, and D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams were both in double figures as well (13, 10). Myke Henry contributed 9, and Joseph Bertrand had 7. The Illini had just 11 turnovers, which is under that magical 12 that John Groce decreed. They forced a whopping 21 TOs out of Western Carolina, which is probably what won them the game.
That free throw problem came back again, as the Illini were just 13-19 from the line. That’s not atrocious, but in a close game 68% is not going to cut it.
There were no buzzer-beater heroics, and for that I’m grateful. The guys stayed calm and collected and just continued to play Illini basketball. The shots not falling made it difficult, but no one panicked and they were up a good 9 points or so with 3 minutes left. Not a sure win, but a little bit of a cushion down the home stretch.
I’m upset it wasn’t a dominating performance, especially when it seems like every other top team isn’t having these close calls. Aside from a Georgetown OT game, Indiana has beaten every opponent by more than 20 points (Georgia by 13, but you get my drift). We should be beating a team like Western Carolina by at least double digits!
Perhaps despite the changes that have occurred, the Illini still play to the level of their opponents. As long as we win that’s fine, but I’m going to have a very stressful season if that’s the case.
On Saturday, the Illini will travel to Spokane, WA to face Gonzaga on their home turf. Gonzaga is currently the No. 10 team in the country, and like Indiana, they’ve been killing their opponents. The closes game came from Clemson (who was ranked at some point this season), where Gonzaga won by 8 points. Now, Gonzaga has not played on the road at all this season yet, with the first road game tonight at Washington State. But this doesn’t really matter, because we’re going into their territory.
A win here would be huge, and would launch us in the top 10 for sure. Luckily, a loss wouldn’t knock us down too far. That will make watching this game a tad easier.
The game will air on ESPN2 at 9pm on Saturday.