Here’s the next installment of Illini Game Tape, which mercifully takes us to the Illinois-Clemson thriller in the 2009 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Thankfully, Illinois’ previous two games (crushing losses to Utah and Bradley in Las Vegas) were not on television; thus, I didn’t record them. Unfortunately, I did listen to these two games on the radio, and have taken the liberty to poke my eardrums with Q-tips to erase the memories.
Anyways, what else can you say about the Illini (4-2) entering only the seventh game, where the season seemed like it was already slipping away and would appear done through one half, that is before the Illini staged the first of many comebacks in 2009-2010.
Let’s get this thing started.
Where I Was for This Game: Nervously watching from home, knowing how big a win would be and how crushing a third straight loss would be to an Illini team with such a young psyche. Honest to say, I was an emotional roller coaster in this game, cursing at the screen in the first half and doing the same in the second 20 minutes.
What I Remember:
● Brandon Paul rocking a nasty fo-hawk and fade, and having a rim-rocking dunk early in the game.
● Jeff Jordan struggling at times to get the ball past halfcourt against Clemson’s press, but being pressed into too many minutes due to foul trouble.
● Everything goes to hell at about the 12-minute mark in the first half; everything goes to hell (in a good way) early in the second half.
● Demetri McCamey somehow playing through four fouls for the last 10 minutes of the game.
● Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale coming up big late in the game.
● Illinois having some success by bringing some pressure to Clemson (what we call turning the tables).
What Surprised Me Upon A Second Viewing:
● Illinois was 3-8 all-time in ACC/Big 10 Challenge entering this game.
● Tisdale only played 10 minutes in the 2008 Clemson-Illinois game due to the pace.
● Davis led the Illini that game in scoring, which I remember. However, I did not know that his 28 points that game were still a career-high.
● Thanks to reminder from ESPN Bottom Line, the Pistons were playing the Bulls at the United Center this night. Who cares, you say? Well, this was Ben Gordon’s first return to the UC – he would struggle with a bad ankle as many classless Bulls fans booed him. The Bulls would win handily. If you don’t know, I’m a huge Gordon fan.
● Illinois is only down 24-21 at under-8. That’s when everything goes bad.
● Forgot that Weber was hit with a technical, and Illinois then called for a flagrant. That turns a 10-point deficit to a 14-point game.
● Clemson beat Butler prior this game. We all know what Butler would end up doing in ’09-10.
First Half Observations
● Commentating: Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes on the game. Mike Davis and Trevor Booker are the ESPN players to watch. With Clemson up big in the first half (up 19 with 47 seconds left), Dykes says that it looks like Clemson will win this game for the ACC. He also makes a point that Illinois’ toughest player is on the sidelines with foul trouble (McCamey). Dykes makes a good point late in the half, that this Illinois team needs 4 of 5 days of practice. Unfortunately, the Illini don’t have this time early in the season.
● Bruce Weber: Stoic look on his face as the ESPN cameras cut to him before the start of the game. Weber is quiet but rightfully incredulous about two quick fouls on McCamey. Flat out bad calls. After Tisdale’s bad pass leads to turnover, a quiet Weber is seen with his hands out to side as if to say WTF. Usually animated on the sideline, Weber is more reserved than usual. Clearly his patience with this team has been tested early in the season with the bad losses in Vegas and with what Dykes says was a bad walkthrough before the Clemson game. Piecing his team through first 12 minutes with McCamey out. Gambled bringing McCamey back in with Jordan’s limitations becoming apparent against the press with more playing time. Takes a good timeout with a little more than 4 minutes left as Clemson has extended the game to 10. Has tried to keep the Illini in it with McCamey out, but you can sense a tidal wave coming. Weber is hit with a technical at 4:23, for tossing clipboard. Clemson hits both free throws for a 37-25 Illini deficit. Illinois trails 47-27 at the break, with McCamey’s foul trouble a big reason why. Illinois fell apart after the under-7 timeout, failing to score for nearly five minutes and making some bad decisions (Keller with several bad shots). Must challenge his team’s pride at halftime coming off bad losses in Vegas and disastrous first half.
● Defense: Clemson pushes at Illinois right away, with Tisdale matched up with Trevor Booker at the top of key. Booker spins Tisdale out of his shorts and scores on a twisting layup. Illinois with some full court defense after taking a 6-2 lead. Richardson and Paul pick up full court man to man. Illinois actually plays what looks to be a matchup zone. Clemson gets an open three in the corner, but misses with Davis closing out. On next possession, Illinois goes back to man, with Paul knocking the ball away and McCamey nearly getting a steal. Three Illini on the floor on that play. Good hustle and urgency early. Tisdale deflects a Booker pass at the top of the key. Booker hits a three as Tisdale and McCamey double a screen (Illinois 8-Clemson 5). Slow rotation by Davis. Up 10-7, Illinois gives up its second offensive rebound to Clemson’s Grant, who can’t finish. Illinois’ inability to secure defensive board leads to a Clemson three and a 10-10 game. Illinois outrebounded 4-2 at the start. Illinois actually showed a zone on that play, but Davis lost sight of the man behind him. Out of under-16, turnover leads to Clemson break and another offensive rebound. Luckily, Booker can’t convert. Up 12-10 after D.J. layup, fail to get back, leading to Noel Johnson’s second three for Clemson. Game is tied at 17 at under-12. Clemson is getting open threes but missing. Clemson has yet to get on a shooting roll (3-for-10 from three). Illinois down 24-21 with 7:51 to go. Clemson is 9-27 from field; Illinois is 8-16. Clemson has nine more shots due to Illinois problems on the glass and turnovers. Fall behind 27-21 as Young hits a three. Stitt then follows up with a jumper for a 29-23 game. Clemson offense really picking it up after under-8 as Young splits D.J. and Davis for a nice floater and 31-23 game. 10-2 run out of under-8 gives Tigers biggest lead of game, 33-23. Clemson is not only breaking down Illini but now hitting shots. Down 39-25 at under 4. Clemson has been clicking on offense while Illinois tries to stay afloat. 17-4 Clemson run has Tigers up 16 (41-25 with 2:15 left). Down 47-27 at the break. It could be worse as Clemson has missed a lot of open shots.
● Offense: For a team coming off two straight debilitating losses, the Illini look good in motion, right away. Paul cans a three, and then assists on a Davis and-one and free throw. Illini look focused really early. Illini push off Clemson miss. Up 8-5, Illinois faces Clemson press for first time, and McCamey struggles to get the ball inbound, with his pass deflected out of bounds. Run the baseline after a make. Illinois’ offense has been good in halfcourt, when getting the ball there. Tie game at under-16. Pressure is already starting to bother Illini. After 10 quick points, Illini stall for a while but have tied the game at 17 at under-12. Have been a little better against the press (not pretty, but effective, with McCamey out). Staying in the game at 7:51, down 24-21. Offense hasn’t been smooth since the beginning, but Paul’s aggressiveness has kept Illinois in the game. Down 14 at under four. Offense is not the same without McCamey, in terms of direction in halfcourt and scoring threats. Illini have been scary against the press (and certainly not pretty) but have gotten the ball into the frontcourt most often than not. A few bad turnovers have hurt. Goal needs to cut this to ten at half and tighten defense. Commit ninth turnover of the half out of under 4 when Paul is called for 10 second violation in backcourt. Near five minute drought from the field hasn’t helped as the Illini fall behind 19. Clemson has outscored Illinois 25-4 since McCamey left the floor with his third foul. That pretty much tells the tale of Illinois’ ineptitude without McCamey posing as a scoring threat.
● Turnovers: First turnover comes at 17:22, with Davis making a bad inbound pass against the Clemson pressure. Minutes later, Tisdale does the same thing, lobbing a pass off a defensive rebound out of bounds. What are they thinking on these plays? Three turnovers in first four minutes. Look shaky against the Clemson press. One more turnover at the under-12 timeout gives them four for the game. Have nine turnovers late in the half. Have been shaky against the press, which has not always caused turnovers but certainly led to helter-skelter offense.
● Demetri McCamey: Gives Illinois an 8-2 lead when pushing after a missed Clemson three and hitting a pull up jumper. Picks up his first foul with 17:33 to go, when Clemson’s David Potter apparently travels. McCamey is called for the reach in, though it could have gone on Paul as well. At 17:04, picks up his second foul, a charge. After blowing by Clemson’s Tanner Smith, McCamey goes up for a shot when the Tigers’ Stitt slides under him. Should have been a block or a no call. Enters back into the game with 9:31 to go after Jordan struggles with press. Misses a wing jumper off a Tisdale screen. On next possession, drives baseline to hit open Tisdale, who has shot blocked. Davis rebounds and is fouled on the play. At 8:06, is called for a cheap third foul. Boxed out Clemson’s Bryan Narcisse (the goggled wonder). Called for riding out, even though there was no real foul there. Sits out the rest of the half, and the game gets away from the Illini after under-8 timeout.
● Brandon Paul: In his first true road game, buries a three on first possession of game. On next possession, feeds Davis with a beautiful interior pass. Clemson cuts the game to 10-7 as Paul fails to switch on a ball screen, as directed by McCamey. Out of under 16, gets away with a walk in the halfcourt and then turns over the ball with a sloppy pass. Turnover nearly leads to a Clemson basket. Atones for the turnover by hitting Richardson on a nice pass for a layup. Nice pull up pass there. Nearly gets offensive rebound/score on Tisdale miss and then misses a three on next possession. Shot looked way too mechanical, and was released from Paul’s side. Hits a tough floater with 11:54 to go to tie the game at 17. Dykes says that Paul averages 1 shot per every 2.5 minutes on the floor. He’s definitely a gunner at times, but that play was great penetration and score. Paul responds on next possession by firing a quick three and missing. Ties the game at 19 at 10 minutes with a ridiculous dunk. Tisdale sets a fake screen and Paul hesitates with his dribble, before taking one bounce and exploding for the one-hand slam. Dykes says that type of play is why NBA scouts are already looking at this kid. Nearly follows up with a charge on next defensive possession. Was a little late, and Clemson’s Stitt scores for a 21-19 Illinois deficit. Aggressive drive forces defensive foul and takes us to under-8 timeout. Down 29-23, Clemson is bringing the pressure in Illini frontcourt. Paul gets stripped on the play but makes a great recovery, blocking Stitt on the play. An incredible display of Paul’s athleticism there as he simply took the ball out of Stitt’s hand before having his momentum take him out of bounds. Gets 10 second call ouf of under 4 timeout. Called for blocking call at 2:27, resulting in two free throws from Stitt and 41-25 deficit. Has made some forced mistakes, but played better than a lot of the other Illini in first half. Also showing more than scoring, including playmaking abilities and defensive prowess at times.
● D.J. Richardson: Negates a bad pass from Davis against the press by stealing the ball back. Scores first basket on layup, set up by beautiful pull up pass from Paul. Nice penetration sets up Davis airball. Goes baseline before under 12 but gets caught in the air. Is bailed out by a foul. Misses first free throw and hits the second to tie the game at 15. Replaced by Paul. Down 23-21 after Semrau block, makes wild drive to the lane, has the ball stripped and compounds error with an over-the-back foul while trying to dive and steal the ball back. Sits for most of the rest of the half, as the first road game seems a little big for him at times. Comes back at 2:38. Gets blown by with 40.3 seconds, leading to a Legion foul and two more Clemson free throws. Down 47-27 now. Very quiet first half for the freshman, who Dykes said did not have a good walkthrough, according to Weber.
● Mike Davis: Starts off well, getting a face up, three-point play on second Illini possession to give Illinois a 6-2 lead. Dykes says that Davis needs to be huge in this game, a double/double guy all year long for the Illini. Davis hits his second shot, to give Illinois a 10-5 lead, on a nice corner jumper set up by a nice lob pass from McCamey out of a double team. Up 10-7, Davis inbounds against the pressure and makes a lazy lob pass that is stolen by Clemson. Lucky for Illinois, Richardson steals the ball back. Dykes hits it on the head: “You Can’t Float Passes against Clemson.” Loses his defender on a back cut with about 16:09 to go, but is bailed out by tall Tisdale. While doing well offensively, his head seems in the clouds defensively, on the boards and when inbounding the ball. Down 15-12, badly airballs a baseline jumper, set up by nice penetration from Richardson. Down 19-17, Illinois breaks the press, and Davis finds himself with the ball filling the transition lane. Instead of hitting Tisdale for a dunk, he leaves his feet too early, getting caught in the air and throwing up an awful shot that misses everything. With 8:48 to go, hits two free throws to cut the game to 23-21. Dykes says that Weber has challenged Davis to get 10 rebounds a game (specifically 7 defensive and 3 offensive). Hits a nice baseline hook to cut Clemson lead to 27-23. Hits a baseline jumper with 51 seconds left to cut the score to 46-27. Illinois’ first field goal in nearly five minutes. Has 9 points and 4 rebounds at the break but has been mostly quiet after a quick start of five points.
● Mike Tisdale: Matched up against Booker, who gets five quick points. After grabbing a rebound away from Grant, lobs the ball out of bounds. Terrible outlet pass. Another floater = another bad pass. Shortly later, has a nice block of a Clemson player on the inside, making up for Davis losing his defender. Misses his first shot (a deep baseline hook) with 14:38 to go (Paul nearly tips in miss). Picks up over the back foul on next Illini possession. Replaced with Keller. Nice block at 5 minutes mark to keep game at eight, temporarily. With 2:38 to go, Tisdale is in weird spot on offense. As a penetrator from the top of the key, Tisdale has good intentions when trying to hit an open Cole underneath but throws the ball out of bounds. No points at the half, though he has only got a couple of shots. Illinois can’t run any offense without McCamey and Tisdale is suffering. Still, 0 points is also on him. He has a lot of these halves where’s he’s nonexistent. That can’t happen as an underclassmen.
● Jeff Jordan: With McCamey in foul trouble, becomes first Illini off the bench at 17:04. Leading into under-16, gets tied up against the press but bailed out with a foul call against Clemson. Actually, Jordan was put into a bad position by a terrible bounce pass from Mike Davis, who threw it at his legs. Not pretty, but gets the ball up court against the press out of the under 16. Gets nice rebound on Clemson miss off Paul turnover (smallest guy on court getting rebounds for Illini – not a good sign). Down 21-19, gets trapped in the press. Makes a lazy pass that trapper (Trevor Booker) steals and feeds to Tanner Smith for a quick four point swing and 23-19 game. Jordan picks up his dribble the next time against the press, but Illinois gets the ball across the timeline. Weber goes to McCamey, saddled with two fouls. Comes back at 8 minute mark after McCamey picks up third foul. Fails to stay down, opting to reach instead, as Young blows by him to give Clemson a 10-point lead at 35-25. After the Weber technical, Jordan dribbles the ball into the ground, leading to a Clemson fast break where Booker is intentionally fouled by Keller. Dykes makes a good point about not picking up the dribble against Clemson, which Jordan has been guilty of. He says that you might as well throw the ball into the stands at that point since Clemson’s live ball turnovers are killers. Jordan gets trapped again at 2:10 but is fouled. Jordan misses one and one. Has been pressed into way too many minutes than he can handle with McCamey out. This half is one of the season’s first signs of just how important McCamey is on the floor.
● Dominique Keller: Enters with Cole at 13:59. Immediately fails to block out Booker off a missed Clemson three, leading to a put back layup and 15-12 deficit. Hits an ugly jumper to cut the Illini deficit to 15-14 with 13:20 left. Nice use of the dribble to create some space there. Secures rebound on next Illini defensive possession, with Illini giving up dribble penetration but lucky that Clemson misses a three. At 12:22, Keller and Tisdale fail to box out Clemson’s Grant, who gets his third offensive rebound and draws foul on Jordan. Back in at five minutes for Davis. Gets defensive rebound on Grant miss and is fouled on the play. Misses the front end of a one and one, which allows Clemson to push. Andre Young blows by Jordan for a layup and 35-25 game. Commits flagrant foul at 4:00 after Jordan turnover. No harm intended there but a reaction to the fast break dunk that was coming. Booker hits both free throws and the Illini are now down 39-25. Trouble time. After Stitt hits a three to put Clemson up 44-25 with under two minutes, takes a terribly rushed fadeaway on the baseline. Misses the shot. On ensuing defensive possession, makes great recovery play, swiping the ball away from Booker on an open layup. Down 47-27, Keller rushes another jumper, allowing Clemson the time to run out the clock and possibly extend this game. Clemson misses a half courter off a scrum following a missed shot. Does a poor job (especially late in the half) of providing any stabilization as a senior.
● Bill Cole: Enters with Keller at 13:59. In his first time against the press, picks up his dribble for no reason. Luckily, the Illini are able to get the ball past the halfcourt line. Commits offensive foul after a missed Illini shot, leading to under 12. Gets beat by Potter out of the under 12, giving up lane and a floater for a 19-17 deficit. Enters with 6:10, getting Semrau. Down 31-23, misses a point-blank layup off a nice pass from Jordan (even though Jordan left his feet too early and got caught in air). Must finish that play. Compounds miss by letting Smith blow by him on the other end. Smith is fouled and hits two free throws for a 10-point game. Misses an open three in the corner but cuts the game to 33-25 after several Illini offensive rebounds, including his own and a stick back. Playing hard, but his effort isn’t producing stops or points. Looks a little tight.
● Richard Semrau: Enters with 8:35 to go in first half. Clemson pushes after Davis made free throws and Semrau is the last line of defense. Keep his position, Semrau blocks two straight shots which lead to an Illini break. Out of under-8, misses layup. This missed opportunity is a play where the game starts to turn.
● Alex Legion: First action at 2:15. Forgot about him. Commits a foul at 58 seconds when Illini fail to box out again. Potter hits two free throws to put Clemson up 21 (46-25). Used to steal a couple of minutes late in the half. Weber’s lack of confidence in the kid is apparent here as Legion, who was supposed to be an offensive scoring machine, is not even brought into the game to make up for McCamey’s void. Still, maybe Weber should have gone to Legion here instead of Cole to try and get some points. A fair point worth debating, though Legion is not as solid with the ball against the press.
Second Half Commentary
● Commentating: Nessler says at the start of the second half that this game looks like it is in the bag, and that Weber may be using this half to see which of his players want to hustle. Dykes notes that Illinois is not used to this type of game, as the Illini only play one team a year (Missouri) noted for this frenetic pace. Dykes says that you could almost see this performance in the Illinois walkthrough earlier in the day. Dykes and Nessler are in comedic mode, talking about Tisdale’s love for fishing and the sport of noodling. Dykes quips that this is the 8th time in Weber’s coaching career that he’s gone zone. At the under-12, with Illinois only down 10, Nessler and Dykes sense the change in momentum, saying that Clemson better wake up soon. The fans at Littlejohn Coliseum are getting restless, while the small Illini contingent is certainly excited. At 9:20, Illinois is down 61-59 with the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead. Dykes say this is a game where you’re calling your buddy and asking if you’re watching this game. After Illinois takes 63-61 lead, Dykes says it is the greatest comeback in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. With Illinois up 68-66 with 4:24 to go, Dykes says that people should never question how good of a coach Weber is.
● Bruce Weber: Desperate for any spark, Weber even goes to a 2-3 zone early in the second half. It works for a possession before Clemson gets an offensive rebound and scores. What may be the decision of the game, McCamey picks up his fourth foul with just under 14 minutes to go. Weber keeps the junior in the game. Time to trust that McCamey will stay on the floor. After Davis hits a jumper to cut the game at 10 with 12:52 to go, calls a timeout, which could have stalled momentum but doesn’t. Weber loves to call a timeout when Illinois is mounting rallies, usually 20 second timeouts to reinforce what the Illini need to do. Brings Jordan in to steal some time for foul-ridden McCamey and comes out again in a 2-3 zone to throw off Clemson. It works as the Illini force a desperation three. However, Illinois fails to box out again. Ball remains with Clemson. More good coaching before under-8 as Illinois has taken the lead and Weber gets McCamey out for Jordan. Gets McCamey back in after the under-8. Calls a smart timeout with Illinois down 74-73 with under a minute left. The Illini looked frazzled on that possession. A nice time to relax and draw up a play. The Illini score out of the timeout, thanks to Tisdale’s niftiness. Overall, an incredible job by Weber in second half, with Illinois regularly scoring out of timeouts. It says something about a coach when a team does not quit when it would have been easy to, especially for a team with two freshmen and three juniors who have yet to assert themselves as leaders.
● Defense: Well, we’ll see what the Illini are made of here. Things get off to an unpromising start as Tanner Smith beats Paul for a layup (a late recovery there by the Illini freshman following Clemson ball screen). Clemson scores easily on its second possession, with Grant getting an easy post-up and score on Davis, who looked disinterested there. Down 51-28 (23 points), biggest deficit of the game. Clemson turns the ball over on the third possession, with Illinois showing a 2-3 zone. Illinois goes zone again but gives up several offense rebounds to fall behind 53-32. Stitt dribbled through the zone, and there was no weak side help on the boards as Trevor Booker tipped in the miss. Poor transition defense as Stitt pushes the ball following a Richardson three. Gets all the way to the hole before being fouled. A timeout on the floor. Stitt makes both free throws. Illinois down 20 with 17:12. Make it 22 as Booker’s younger brother scores on the block. Late help defense from Davis there, with Illinois down 57-35 with 16:39 left. Illinois fails to get back after Paul three. Luckily, Clemson does not score. Illinois trails 57-38 at the under-16. Off of under-16, Clemson turns the ball over. After a Paul three cuts the game to 16, Potter buries a three, with McCamey a bit late on the closeout. Clemson up 19 again, 60-41, with 14:31 left. Feeding off their offense, the Illini are playing with more energy on defense and trail 61-51 at under-16. Illinois holds Clemson to just four points in this four-minute spurt. Momentum has clearly turned as Potter misses a point-blank layup out of the under-12. Nice rebound by Tisdale, who actually swings his elbows. Illinois has this game down to 61-59 at 9:36 when Young gets to the line on a Paul foul. He misses both free throws. Clemson hasn’t scored in forever, as Illinois is putting their foot on the throat defensively. Paul’s activity leads to a steal and layup, to give the Illini a 63-61 lead with 8:46 left. Clemson needs a timeout after Illinois takes the lead. The Tigers and their fans are shocked. Illinois finally gives up a bucket at 8:13 (a Grant dunk). The game is nodded at 63 at the under-8. Clemson with 2 points in last 8 minutes. Clemson is somehow shooting 50% for the half, but it doesn’t seem like they’re getting many shots. Up 65-63, Illinois stays in the zone, which seems to have Clemson afraid to attack. Booker finally does attack and hits a twisting layup to tie the game at 65 with 7 minutes left. His first field goal of half. Down 67-65, Clemson’s Young misses a three at 5:08, and the Illini do a good job boxing out. The ball is knocked out of bounds to Illinois. The Illini have finally seemed to figure out the importance of limiting a possession to one shot. Davis is playing like a man possessed. Clemson is out of sorts big time as Booker slips a screen and makes an extra pass instead of taking a jumper. Illinois clings to a 2-point lead with 4 minutes left. Up 70-66, Illinois fails to do a good job after Tisdale jumper, as Stitt hits an open three. 70-69 game. Poor transition defense again on following possession results in Narcisse of all people getting an offensive board, layup and foul on Richardson. Narcisse misses the free throw out of the under 4. An interesting stat: 20 of Illinois’ 43 points in the second half have come off turnovers. Following Tisdale offensive foul on screening violation, Illinois gives up dribble penetration and Smith hits a corner three. Clemson up 74-72 with 1:59 left. Down 74-73 with 1:13 left, Illinois benefits when Stitt takes a quick three with 22 seconds on the shot clock. Nice close out by Tisdale and another strong rebound for Davis. Up 75-74 with 40 seconds left, Tisdale gets a huge block. Illinois regains possession and Paul is fouled with 8.4 seconds left. Up 76-74 after Paul misses the second free throw, Clemson has a chance to tie or win it. Stitt gets into the lane and misses a tough lefty layup. Good help from Davis. McCamey swats the ball out to top of key (similar to Vlade Divac against the Lakers in 2002). Luckily, the horn goes off before Clemson can even catch the ball to shoot. Illinois wins 76-74, with the biggest comeback in Illinois history. Hardly a great defensive team, Illinois’ offense seemed to spark its defense tonight. Still to the Illini’s credit, they hold Clemson to 17 points in the last 16 minutes. Some mental lapses in getting back on defense could have cost them late, but Illinois gets the much deserved victory.
● Offense: Down 23, Illinois does a nice job breaking the press as the ball never touches the floor. Richardson hits Paul, who feeds Tisdale down low. Tisdale initially gets blocked but is fouled on the follow up. Illinois picking up some offensive rhythm with several scores. Doing a nice job against the press with McCamey in the game. Not dribbling the ball to death but rather making over-the-top passes. Down 19 at the under-16, Illinois is scoring efficiently this half, but hardly putting its foot down on defense. Illinois has outscored Clemson 11-10 in the first four minutes. By 13:28, Illinois is in a good offensive rhythm following a Richardson three that cuts the game to 12 (61-49). Illinois cuts a 22-point deficit to 10 with a Davis jumper. Nice job there. Cole with defensive board, hit Richardson, who pushed the ball and found Davis trailing. 16-4 run in last 3:30. Still 61-51 at under-12. Illini are clicking in second half, having found the three-point shot while getting Davis and Tisdale going. Can not underestimate McCamey’s impact here, with simply his ability to break the press and run the offense. Illinois outscores Clemson 13-4 in this four-minute spurt. Illinois is starting to believe in the second half, with the game at eight (61-53) at 10:37. The Illini are shooting a blistering 75% in the second half. Amazingly, this game is down to 61-57 with 10:19 to go after a four-point play from Richardson. Illinois on a 22-4 run in the last 6 minutes here. Unbelievable. Everything is going Illinois’ way as McCamey misses a spinning jumper but Trevor Booker tips it in. 61-59 with 9:38 to go. The game is nodded up at 61 with 9:18 to go following two Paul free throws. It’s the game’s first tie since 19-19 at 11:03 in the first half. A Paul steal and layup on the next possession gives Illinois its first lead in forever, 63-61 at 8:46. Illinois shooting 67% in half as game is tied at 63 at under-8. Illinois goes up 65-63 on a Tisdale basket. A 25-point swing in 11 minutes as Illinois leads 67-65 after a skilled reverse layup from Davis. Illinois pushes the lead to 70-66 with 3:50 left when Tisdale cans a jumper off the screen and roll game with McCamey. At under-4 timeout, Illinois is down 71-70 with two straight defensive lapses. Got to tighten it up, or this comeback will be for naught. Down 74-73 with under a minute left and a timeout. Tisdale scores on a beautiful pump fake, drive and layup. Paul hits one of two at the line and the Illini hold for a thrilling 76-74. Barring a few turnovers, flawless execution in the second half. Illinois shoots 60.7% in final 20 minutes and 52% for the game.
● Turnovers: McCamey with first gaffe of second half, leading into under-16 timeout. Out of under-12, McCamey turns the ball over with a careless pass (after getting caught up in the air). His second turnover of the half. Up 67-65, Richardson commits a rare turnover with 4:43 left. Off a nice penetration, tries to hit a streaking Keller, who can’t hold onto the pass. That turnover eventually leads to a Keller foul on Booker, who hits one of two free throws to make the game 67-66 with 4:32 left. Illinois with 15 turnovers in the game, most of them in the first half, as the Illini are more careful with the ball in the second half.
● Demetri McCamey: Back in the game. Not looking for his offense in first four minutes, but running a nice offense against the press. After getting behind the press, hits Paul for a three to cut the game to 57-38 with 16:27 left. Turns the ball over, leading into the under-16 timeout. His pass to Richardson in the corner hit the sideline. Airballs a three after a Paul missed three and Davis rebound. Lucky for Illinois, there is a foul on the floor, down low, against Clemson. Naturally, after Illinois cuts the game to 14, McCamey is called for his fourth foul, a block on an out-of-control Potter. Another bad call. McCamey can’t catch a break tonight with the officials. Potter makes one of two and Illinois is down 15 (61-46). After his fourth foul, does a nice job of pushing but being under control, eventually leading to a Richardson three from the corner pocket. McCamey back in at the under 12 and throws the ball away. Great job running the transition with 10:19 to go when he hits the trailing Richardson for a three and foul. At 9:38, misses a spinning jumper but the ball is tipped in by Clemson’s Trevor Booker. Finishes with 2 points and 7 assists. This game is about his maturity though, as he is able to stay on the floor in the second half with four fouls. As a sophomore, McCamey wouldn’t have been able to do so. A great indication of things to come.
● Brandon Paul: Continuing his aggressiveness, drives to the basket on first Illini possession, drawing a foul and hitting one of two free throws for a 49-28 game. Gritty hustle as he gets back on a Richardson turnover to stop a Booker layup. Buries a three pointer from the wing to cut the Illini deficit to 19 with a little more than 16 minutes to go. Nessler says that you can see that Paul has that “It” factor. On next defensive possession, looks like he is in position for charge, but is called for questionable block. Off inbound, gets elbowed in the face by Tanner Smith, who was sweeping the ball. Spends a few seconds on the floor, regaining his senses. Misses a three out of under-16. Off a nice inbound play, buries a corner three to cut the game to 16. Nice play there by the Illini. 14 points for the freshman in his first true road game as a college player. Checks back into the game after the Richardson four-point play, and nearly steals the ball on first defensive possession, doing a great job of getting into the passing lane. That’s ok, Paul says. As he forces a backcourt violation against Clemson. At 9:20, Paul is fouled in the halfcourt. Has a one and one to tie the games. Hits both free throws as Illinois ties the game at 61 with 9:18 to go. Paul is all over the place on the defensive end, forcing a steal and then getting on the break. With a Clemson player barreling down on him, he does a great job of letting the player blow by him and lays in the ball. Illinois leads 63-61. Incredible. Picks up a cheap third foul on next possession after timeout. Oh, the exuberance of youth. In double bonus at 4:25, hits one of two free throws to give Illinois a 68-66 lead with 4:25 left. Weber takes timeout after this play. Paul misses a three with under four minutes left. A bit rushed as Illinois leads 70-69. After big assist to Tisdale gives Illinois a 72-71 lead, forces a key steal at 2:32. Gets lucky as he forces a drive and could have been called for a charge. The ball goes off a Clemson player. Down 74-72 with under two minutes to go, forces a quick jumper. Luckily, Davis gets a hand on it and taps the ball out to McCamey. With a chance to put the game to three at 8.4 seconds left, Paul makes the first for a 76-74 lead. Paul misses the second long. Barring a few freshman mistakes, didn’t play like a freshman in what was likely his best game of the season. 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists, and played like a madman on defense. Would like to see Paul in the future get in the passing lanes like he did in this game.
● D.J. Richardson: Gets his first three of the game with 17:26 to go in the half, cutting the deficit to 18. Only his second field goal. Once again, his feet are set. Nice assist from McCamey. With 17:07 to go, turns the ball over against the trap while barely in the frontcourt. Good job of getting back (along with Paul, who breaks up Booker’s layup attempt). Hits a corner three with 13:43 to go to put Illinois down 12 (61-49). Assist to Bill Cole. Nice job by McCamey of attacking and by the Illini of swinging the ball around the perimeter. At 12:13, takes a nice charge on Smith off inbound play. Big play for a freshman, especially with Illinois having reduced this game to 10. Buries a three-pointer on the break and gets fouled with 10:19 to go. Great job of leaning into the defender there. He makes the free throw and Illinois has cut this game to 61-57. 3-for-3 from three in the second half. Misses a long three with the game tied at 65. A bit of a heave there. Although the shot clock was down. On next possession, nearly puts in a McCamey miss. Nice job attacking the board. Effort allows the ball to pop out to McCamey, who hits Davis for a nasty reverse layup and 67-65 lead. Hits one of two free throws to cut the game to 74-73 with 1:27 left. Good dribble drive on play, and nice adjustment of body to make it look more like a block against Booker. Finishes with 14 points on steady 4-for-7 shooting. Overcomes quiet first half by finding three-point stroke in second half. Rose to the challenge of the moment in the second half after looking overwhelmed earlier.
● Mike Davis: Makes a nice banker, showing some ball handling capabilities against the press. 51-32 after Davis’ bucket. Offensive board keeps an Illini possession alive and helps Illinois cut the game down to 16 with a Paul three. Following Tisdale’s layup, does a nice job floating in the backcourt. Steals the inbound, misses a shot but grabs the rebound. His second attempt, a righty half hook, is good plus the foul. An energy play from Davis has the game down to 15. He makes the free throw and Illinois is down 60-46 with 14:07 left. While still looking bleak, there is some life. Davis with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Davis hits a mid-range jumper at 12:52 to cut the game to 10 (61-51). Scores a layup on a nice pass from Tisdale to cut the game to eight (61-53) with 10:55 to go. Benefitted from gorgeous pass from Tisdale. Play was beautifully run at top of key by McCamey, who drew two defenders, hits a slashing Tisdale just above the right block. Tisdale then found Davis, who was diving at the opposite baseline. Davis with 20 points now on 8-for-10 shooting. Davis’ activity is becoming key. On the ensuing possession, he deflects a Booker pass that starts an Illini break, with McCamey feeding D.J. Richardson for a three-pointer and the foul. Snags a defensive rebound with a little more than 6 minutes left after a Potter miss. Where is that type of intensity all of the time? On the ensuing Illini possession, hits a ridiculous reverse layup to give Illinois a 67-65 lead with 5:36 to go. 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Humongous offensive tap out with 1:42 left after Paul miss and with Illini down two. All in all, what a game. 22 points and 9 boards, and was playing with controlled anger in the second half. Still had spurts in first half when he was nonexistent, but this may have been his best overall game as an Illini in his first three seasons, in my opinion.
● Mike Tisdale: Gets to the line early in the second half. Hits two free throws with 18:58 left, cutting the deficit to 51-30. Down 60-41, scores his first field goal of the game at 14:15. Play is set up nicely by McCamey who pushes after a Clemson three, with the assist going to Richardson. Great hustle leading into the under-12. Following a Cole missed three, runs down a ball heading out of bounds and throws the ball off a Clemson player. It will be Illinois ball coming out of the break. Grabs strong defensive board on Potter miss out of under-12. Then assists on a Davis layup. Great pass there. Out of under-8, gets a three point play. Great pass from Davis on the baseline. Good job by Tisdale to absorb the contact and go up strong. Good slip of the screen by Davis, and nice pass by McCamey. Tisdale misses the free throw. Illinois is up 65-63. More good hustle from Tisdale as he tracks down a missed Booker free throw, causing the ball to bounce off a Clemson player. Corner jumper with 3:50 to go puts Illinois up four at 70-66. Tisdale with all of his eight points in second half. Hits a huge hook shot with 2:49 to go to put Illini back on top at 72-71. Slipped the screen on Paul, who made a great pass. Very skilled shot among the Clemson front line. Tisdale coming up big. On next possession, is called for an offensive foul when trying to set on screen. Was moving on the play. Huge bucket with 41 seconds left to give Illinois a 75-74 lead. Off a pass from Paul, finds himself with ball on left baseline. Does a Sam Young headfake, and puts the ball on the floor for one bounce and a banker layup. A highly-skilled play for a 7’1’’ player. Follows up with a block on the other end. Illinois gets the ball and Paul is eventually fouled with under 9 seconds to go. That’s using your length. Great second half for Tisdale, scoring all 12 of his points. Finishes with 8 boards. Was huge in the final minutes, looking impervious to the pressure. Makes up for ghostlike first half with a tough second half. Loved his hustle and willingness to shoot when the game was on the line.
● Jeff Jordan: Out of timeout at 12:52, replaces McCamey, obviously to steal a minute before the under-12. Good coaching by Weber. Comes back in right before the under-8 and does a nice job getting back on a Keller miss. Clemson’s attempt to hit Booker transition leads to a turnover as Jordan was there to make the catch difficult.
● Dominique Keller: Comes into the game after Richardson four-point play. Misses a jumper right before the under-8 with the game tied at 63. Gives Illinois some decent defense in second half.
● Bill Cole: First Illini off the bench, entering for Paul at 13:57. Misses a three leading into the under-12 that would have cut the game to seven. Also gives Illinois some decent defense in second half.
● Richard Semrau: Does not play in second half.
● Alex Legion: Does not play in second half.
Plays of the Game:
Two plays stood out to me in the comeback.
● Down 17 with 14 minutes to go in the second half, Illinois’ Davis hangs around in the backcourt after a Paul three. He steals the Clemson inbound pass but misses a short attempt. Hustling down the rebound, Davis hits a baseline righty hook and draws the foul. He completes the three-point play and caps a quick 6-0 spurt that seems to energize the Illini, now down by 14.
● Down one with under a minute to go, Tisdale catches the ball on the baselines, gives a beautiful up fake, puts the ball on the deck and hits a ridiculously skilled bank shot for a 75-74 Illinois lead. He then blocks a Potter shot on the other end.
Overall: Illinois wins 76-74 in one of the most thrilling Illini games in recent years. Discouraging in the first half and inspirational in the second. Great team effort in final 20 minutes, with every starter contributing in big ways. Weber pulls all the right strings in second half. At the time, this game was huge following the Las Vegas weekend from hell, and seemed like it could have been an early-season springboard for this team to come together. Beating a ranked Clemson team (#18 at the time) would hopefully have some pull come March.
There were a lot.
● Weber’s faith in McCamey with four fouls.
● McCamey’s ability to play under control with four fouls.
● Mike Davis’ nastiness in this game, including a huge tip out late in the second half and big defensive board as well, along with some efficient shooting.
● Tisdale’s guts with the game on the line.
● Paul playing like an upperclassmen, and being a terror on defense.
● Richardson continuing to hit big threes, and stroke the ball well from behind the arc.
● Teamwork and heart in the second half, with everyone making contributions.
● Lack of any offensive flow with McCamey on the bench, and no backup ball handler.
● Difficulty containing the dribble drive and guarding the three.
● Trouble against the press, with McCamey out of the game.
● Tisdale doing little to nothing in the first half.
● Davis floating around at times as well in the first half.
● Unforced turnovers in first half.
● Outrebounded by one (despite Clemson having a smaller front line).
Player of the Game: Mike Davis
This is an extremely tough call as Tisdale was huge late, Paul was consistent throughout and McCamey somehow navigated his way through this game with four fouls. I’ll go with Davis at the end of the day, who not only was efficient and got nasty on the boards, but made some little plays that were key in the second half. If only Davis could play with such urgency and focus all the time.
Well, that certainly was a fun one, and a nice makeup win for the Illini after losing to Clemson in the 2008 ACC/Big Ten Challenge (when McCamey couldn’t get a shot off in the final seconds).
That’s 3 down and about 30 more to go.
Until tomorrow, and a Boise State-Illinois game that I can hardly remember.
Topics: ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Alex Legion, Bill Cole, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Clemson Basketball, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Dominique Keller, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Jeff Jordan, Jeffrey Jordan, Littlejohn Coliseum, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Richard Semrau, Trevor Booker, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois