With only 18 hours between its overtime loss to Texas on Friday morning and tip off against Maryland later that afternoon, Illinois’ gritty if not always pretty victory against the Terrapins should be commended, even if it got a bit scary at the end.
In fact, after watching the game tape last night, I was quite impressed with not only the team bouncing back but Demetri McCamey playing under great control all game long against Maryland after having some costly lapses against Texas.
With that said, here are my brutally-honest observations for the Illinois-Maryland game.
● After I criticized Illinois for not playing tough enough on the interior against the Longhorns, the Illini were much better against Maryland. At halftime, Illinois had 18 points on the interior to match 18 points from the three-point line. That’s great balance. From the get go yesterday, Illinois made it a point to go inside, with the Illini running its first play to a diving Mike Davis, who missed a running floater but had a good look. Mike Tisdale quickly followed with a nice half hook at the right elbow and Demetri McCamey later attacked the basket on an aggressive post-up and layup. When Jereme Richmond came in the game, Illinois immediately looked to get him the ball on the block, though the freshman had a hard time finishing yesterday. Meyers Leonard also had two nasty dunks in the first half, one off an inbound play and another on a fast break during which Illinois beautifully passed the ball through Maryland’s full-court press. While Illinois will never be confused for a bunch of bangers, it was good to see the Illini make post touches a priority on Friday after head coach Bruce Weber wisely noted during Thursday’s night post-game presser that Illinois relied on too many threes against Texas.
● Weber may get criticized for a lot of things, but he is a brilliant Xs and Os coach. With the exception of Illinois speeding itself up for a brief minute or two in the second half, the Illini had no problem with Maryland’s full-court pressure, breaking the press with textbook passing during which the ball rarely touched the floor. Leonard’s athletic, first-half dunk off the press is a great example of how well-schooled the Illini are in this facet of the game under Weber.
● For as fundamentally sound as the Illini were against the press, Illinois really struggled in NYC at boxing out and coming up with rebounds at the free throw line. Maryland got a couple of second-chance opportunities off missed free throws, as did Texas on Thursday night.
● Illinois persevered with McCamey (2 fouls) and Brandon Paul (3 fouls) out for most of the first half, with Crandall Head providing a nice jolt off the bench. It was great to see Head respond to the challenge and play under much more control after getting a DNP against Texas, looking like a train wreck against SIU, and sitting out against Toledo for “not taking care of business,” as Weber said. If Head can slow down and play with his head, he is too good not to get more time, though I think his minutes will be tough to come by on a consistent basis as a freshman.
● Illinois also could have folded when Maryland went on a furious second-half run to go up 1-point. However, the Illini responded with a strong 4-5 minutes of play to regain control of the game. While hardly a finished product, Illinois proved resilient and mentally tough in the second halves of the Maryland and Texas games, which was a very positive sign considering the team’s fragile psyche last season.
● Tyler Griffey thankfully got more time on Friday and responded with a big 9 points off the bench after barely seeing the court against Texas. On the other hand, Meyers Leonard only played 3 minutes, despite looking good while in the game. With Mike Tisdale in foul trouble and Mike Davis struggling, it was surprising that Leonard didn’t get more time, possibly at the same time with Griffey on the floor. As of right now, it looks like Bruce Weber will have a hard time incorporating all four big men into the game, which is unfortunate. With that said, backup minutes for these big men may come down to who is playing better on a given night, Griffey or Leonard. Personally, I feel that both players need to get at least 10 minutes a game, with those numbers not likely enough.
● At one point in the first half, Illinois had all three freshmen on the floor in Richmond, Leonard and Head. I didn’t expect to see that lineup together at the Garden, and I’d bet Bruce Weber would say the same.
● Thank goodness Maryland’s Jordan Williams was in foul trouble in the first half and only got 8 shots in the entire game. While a quiet 6-for-8 for 14 points, Williams could have been a bigger handful for the Illini. Credit Illinois in some regards but thank Maryland as well for not getting the big guy enough touches as far as I’m concerned.
● Illinois just doesn’t like to make things easy on itself, especially when holding onto decent leads. Illinois missed five free throws in the game’s final two minutes, allowing Maryland to cut the game to 78-76 with 7 seconds left. Thankfully, Brandon Paul hit two free throws to seal the game. When considering that the Big Ten is going to be very competitive this season, late-game free-throw shooting will be huge. Illinois has some work to do in this area of the game.
● Here’s one more little thing that needs to be worked on. In both games, Illinois got caught up in a fast-tempo as either Texas or Maryland were in the midst of spurts. On Thursday night, McCamey tried to rush up court after a Texas score in the first half, essentially forgetting to dribble and losing the ball to Tristan Thompson, who scored an easy layup. Brandon Paul tried the same thing in the second half, racing up court after a quick Texas bucket and getting his shot blocked. Briefly in the second half against Maryland, Illinois got caught up in the speed game, with Davis having a sloppy turnover in the back court and McCamey shortly following up with his own turnover. Both turnovers led to Maryland baskets that cut into an 8-point Illinois lead. While Illinois can run with teams, the Illini must do a better job of slowing down the tempo when other teams are in the midst of mini-runs, rather than playing right into the opponent’s hands, which was the case at points in NYC.
Here are some player observations.
20 points (7-9 shooting, 3-3 from three, 3-4 at the line), 2 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 turnover and 4 fouls in 29 minutes
● Bobby Knight made a great point last night, saying that McCamey played within himself against Maryland. McCamey certainly did, dominating the game without playing too fast. While McCamey had a very good game against Texas, he forced some things that really hurt the Illini during Thursday’s loss. Yesterday, McCamey was under much better control, and it showed with an efficient performance during which the senior was unconscious from the field. McCamey had one turnover off a sloppy pass that resulted in a Maryland layup and forced one bad layup in the second half. All in all, McCamey was really, really good all night long, which was great to see. And I think Illinois may have found itself a play to score a basket or two each game, with McCamey posting up smaller guards on the block and then going right to the hoop. McCamey flat out abused Texas and Maryland on two post up plays.
9 points (3-10 shooting, 3-6 from three, 0-2 at the line), 1 rebound, 3 assists and 2 fouls in 32 minutes
● As Richardson usually does a couple of times each game, he hit a couple of huge momentum threes. With that said, Richardson seemed to rush his shot a bit in NYC, and is too infatuated with the three-point stripe. I’m shocked that D.J. missed two free throws late in the game, as he was arguably Illinois’ most clutch free-throw shooter last year.
3 points (1-5 shooting, 1-4 from three, 0-2 at the line), 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 22 minutes
● I can’t remember much from Cole in this game, besides hitting a three at the top of the key in the first half and then missing two late free throws. Cole continued to see some time on the court with Jereme Richmond, with the Illini actually looking decent with this smaller lineup during both games.
7 points (3-8 shooting, 1-2 at the line), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 fouls in 30 minutes
● Davis couldn’t find his shot at MSG but did have 6 straight points in the second half to help Illinois pull out to a comfortable lead. Illinois tried to get him going early, running a nice back screen from Cole and dive on the first possession of the game, but Davis missed a running floater. Unfortunately, Davis wasn’t as active in other areas of the game as he was against Texas, when he also couldn’t find his stroke but had 12 rebounds. While Davis seems a bit forgotten in the offense, he struggled to get going in both games but kept a good head, as seen during the second half when he raced down court to block a Maryland layup attempt. With Davis struggling and Tisdale in foul trouble, I was surprised that Leonard didn’t get more minutes, though Griffey certainly got more tick.
8 points (4-5 shooting), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 1 block and 5 fouls in 17 minutes
● Tisdale actually played well when staying on the floor, getting all of his points in the post and showing his soft hook. Unfortunately, Tisdale couldn’t stay on the floor again, picking up some cheap fouls that meant another short night. Expect Tisdale to be in foul trouble any time Illinois goes up against a team with athletic or physical big men, as was the case with Texas and Maryland and probably will be the case against Ohio State and Michigan State.
12 points (3-3 shooting, 6-8 at the line), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 steals and 3 fouls in 20 minutes
● Paul sat most of the first half with three fouls, one of which came when he was too loose with the ball in the half court, resulting in a Maryland steal and hack at the rim. In the second half, Paul played under better control, as evident during a nice lob pass on the break to Davis, who got an easy dunk. While Knight felt that Paul played too fast for much of the game, he clearly didn’t see Paul as a freshman, when he was typically out of control, at least in the Big Ten. As a sophomore, Paul has made great improvements thus far in terms of slowing down his game. It was also great to see Paul attack and finish at the rim (this kid needs to go to the basket with much more regularity). Of course, Paul hit the two big free throws to seal the victory. After McCamey, Paul has been Illinois’ best player through the first 5 games.
9 points (3-8 shooting, 3-5 from three), 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 3 fouls in 20 minutes
● Even before Illinois got into foul trouble on Friday, it looked to me like Weber realized he should have played Griffey more against Texas. Griffey got in relatively early in the first half and provided a spark with two threes, including one right before halftime. Griffey hit another big three in the second half before going a bit cold and forcing two questionable shots. With that said, Griffey provided a spark like he usually does when allowed to get decent minutes. As I wrote in the Hoops Musings for the Texas game, good things tend to happen when Griffey is on the floor. That was certainly the case against Maryland.
8 points (2-7 shooting, 4-5 at the line), 6 rebounds and 1 block in 19 minutes
● Richmond left some points on the court with some close misses but provided toughness once again. It’s pretty amazing to think that Richmond seems to be the most comfortable of all the Illini in terms of posting up. Knight noted Richmond’s post-up ability during Friday’s telecast, saying that Illinois seems to have it all with deep guards led by McCamey and a post-up presence in Richmond. I love this kid’s patience and tenacity on the block. All in all, Richmond played with the right type of edge in New York, with his attitude proving beneficial rather than detrimental.
0 points (0-2 shooting, 0-1 from three), 1 rebound, 3 assists and 1 steal in 8 minutes.
● Head may not have scored but had a big impact when coming in late in the first half. With McCamey and Paul out, Head was ready to play, which meant not running around with his head cut off. Knight was really impressed with Head’s decision making, including a great decision to pull the ball out on an unbalanced break for the Illini. Head did a lot of little things that proved big in helping the Illini maintain a lead heading into the break. As said earlier, if Head can consistently bring such control and discipline, he may get more minutes than expected during his freshman season.
4 points (2-3 shooting) and 2 turnovers in 3 minutes
● Leonard should have been 3-for-3 on the night, as his first shot spun in and out after banking off the glass. Leonard had two serious facials, one off a gorgeous inbound play when he set a screen and then went to the basket, and the other off a nasty one-hand slam when Illinois broke the press with great beauty. Leonard’s second dunk was a true display of his freakish athleticism. With that said, three minutes for Leonard was a bit disappointing, as he could have gotten a few from Davis yesterday. Ultimately, Weber will need more time to figure out how to work Griffey and Leonard in the big-man rotation. However, if Davis and Tisdale play like they did in New York, both Griffey and Leonard will deserve more minutes.
Until Illinois’ next game, Tuesday night against Yale.
Topics: Assembly Hall, Bill Cole, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Gary Williams, Illini, Illini Basketball, Illinois, Illinois Basketball, Jereme Richmond, Jerrance Howard, Jordan Williams, Joseph Bertrand, Maryland Basketball, Maryland Terrapins, Meyers Leonard, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Terrapins Basketball, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois