Hoops Musings for the Morning After: Game Four, Texas 90-Illinois 84, OT


Following a winnable but ultimately disappointing game against Texas last night, Illinois will have to move on quickly with Maryland and sophomore big man Jordan Williams up next at 4 p.m. today.

After a good night’s sleep, here are my brutally honest observations about the UI-UT game.

● Illinois has no one to blame but itself after this loss. The Illini did a good job in the second half of grinding the pace back to their favor, and Texas wanted to give the game away at the free throw line, but Illinois simply didn’t convert at the foul line, within the half-court offense and on the defensive interior when it mattered.

● If it hasn’t been clear during the last two seasons, Illinois is a finesse team and will always be such a team with a starting front court of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. It’s not that Davis and Tisdale didn’t play with much more toughness last night than in previous seasons, it’s that Illinois really has no idea how to play down low. Our guards don’t attack the basket with enough aggression, and our big men are not suited for such physical play, even if they have gotten better at it. While Texas is not the toughest team in the world, the Longhorns played with much more urgency and purpose around the rim and really killed the Illini on the interior with their overall athleticism and speed. Early in the second half, Illinois had great box-out position and the Texas players still got the rebounds. Illinois simply got outworked last night.

● Rushed shots killed the Illini when the game was there for the taking. With the game tied at 45, Illinois came out of the break and rushed a couple of shots, thus helping propel a 9-0 Texas run. Freshman Jereme Richmond missed a rushed bunny late in regulation that would have put up Illinois by two possessions. In the game’s final two minutes, Demetri McCamey tried to do much when rushing two bad shots, including one immediately out of an Illinois timeout with roughly 40 seconds left in the game. Illinois gave up another crucial 8-0 run in the first 1:15 of overtime due to rushed shots from D.J. Richardson and Richmond. Brandon Paul had to force some threes in the final 30 seconds. All in all, Illinois needs to play with more poise and better ball movement on offense.

● Illinois lives by the three and dies by the three. Illinois hit 7 in the first half and only 1 in the second half. Illinois needs to get the ball on the block more often, with Richmond already looking like the team’s most physical and polished post player. With this in mind, I will give credit to Illinois when Meyers Leonard first came in the game during the first half. Illinois immediately went to him off a cross-screen on the block, and a score would have ensued if Leonard went up strong and dunked the ball. Illinois tried to go to Tisdale on the block in the second half, but he picked up an offensive foul on one possession and missed an awkward lefty hook to the baseline.

● From the players to the coaches, Illinois complains way too much to the officials. The Illini were irate about a couple of Tristan Thompson blocked shots that were actually blocked shots and not goal tends. When Illinois was spending too much time barking at the officials early in the second half, Texas was making its run. When Illinois stopped complaining and got down to the business, the Illini started to control the second half. Sure, Texas shot 44 free throws to Illinois’ 28, but this disparity is more of a byproduct of Illinois being a jump-shooting team.

● Despite the loss, Illinois should feel encouraged with the team’s resiliency. The Illini looked brilliant in spurts but really couldn’t put it together for a sustained period of time. While Texas got the win, Illinois didn’t play well and should have won. If Illinois can clean up some little things, this team should be good.

● On the flip side, Illinois always seems to lose these games against more athletic teams in the Bruce Weber era. It just seems that Illinois can never put it together when it matters against teams that can jump out of the gym but are beatable. Unfortunately, it seems that Illinois finds a way to lose these games rather than the other team beating them.

● Bruce Weber made a shrewd decision when Mike Tisdale fouled out with a lot of time left in the second half, playing some small ball with a lineup of McCamey, Richardson, Richmond, Cole and Davis, with Paul getting minutes as well. In my opinion, the game changed with this lineup, with Richmond and Cole providing some toughness that was missing as Illinois started to enforce its will and seize control.

● While Paul was excellent in the first half, I didn’t like Weber’s decision to start him in the second half. There will be a lot of calls for Paul to start on this team given that the sophomore is playing excellent basketball, but I think he is best suited as a sixth man who gets starter’s minutes. Illinois looked out of sync with its new lineup to start the second half and Texas took advantage immediately.

● Tyler Griffey getting only 3 minutes is an absolute joke. This kid needs much more time and should not be an afterthought. Good things happen when Griffey is on the floor. Weber needs to look in the mirror and realize that this team’s greatest strength is its depth. Illinois can’t afford to let Griffey waste away this season. An 8-man rotation will simply not get it done this year. While I’m already resigned to the fact that Crandall Head and Joseph Bertrand will not get a lot of pine this season, Griffey needs to play 15 minutes a game. As much as I respect Weber as a human being and coach, he needs to be more flexible with his bench.


Here are some quick player thoughts.

Demetri McCamey

22 points (8-16 shooting, 2-5 from three, 4-4 free throws), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 turnovers, 4 fouls in 42 minutes.

● McCamey was brilliant at times, leading the Illini with 22 points and hitting some ridiculous shots. With that said, I think he played a bit too fast all night, as seen in two forced shots at the end of regulation and some sloppy and unnecessary one-handed passes and overdribbling that took him nowhere. McCamey needs to realize that he can be the man late in the games without having to sacrifice all of his other skills for the sake of scoring. I’d rather have McCamey learn this lesson after a loss in November than March. With that said, McCamey did play with great urgency. It was nice to see him get 6 boards and post up and destroy a Texas player with an absolutely nasty move on the block. McCamey needs to focus more on playing with such toughness as opposed to trying to make the spectacular play, which seems to cost him at least once or twice a game.

D.J. Richardson

15 points (4-15 shooting, 3-9 three, 4-4 free throws), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 fouls in 40 minutes.

Richardson struggled with his jumper, forced some questionable shots and badly missed a three off the side of the backboard at the end of overtime. Not his best game, Richardson was still gritty, hitting a couple of big shots during the Illini comeback in the second half and playing great defense on Texas’ Cory Joseph on the final possession of regulation to send the game into overtime. With that said, Richardson played too quick in overtime. He also needs to take his game inside the three-point line, specifically to the mid-range. Richardson is a great three-point shooter when set, but is too well-rounded to be such a one-dimensional player on the offensive end.

Bill Cole

9 points (2-5 shooting, 2-4 three, 3-4 free throws), 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 steals, 2 blocks and 2 fouls in 17 minutes.

● Just when you’re wondering why Richmond wasn’t getting more time, Cole came up huge in the second half, hitting 3 of 4 free throws in the game’s final minutes and then drilling 2 threes in overtime to keep the Illini in the game. While Cole’s hustle proved huge late in the game, Richmond should still be starting on this team. In my opinion, Cole’s game is better suited off the bench, particularly for moments like Thursday night when Illinois needed a shot in the arm in the second half.

Mike Davis

8 points (2-6 shooting, 4-8 free throws), 12 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 4 fouls in 39 minutes.

● Davis wasn’t involved much in the offense last night and struggled with his shot, scoring just 8 points. With that said, Davis never pouted and played what I thought was a tough game, getting 12 rebounds and doing a lot of little things in the second half that didn’t show up in the box score. Davis did struggle with Texas’ athletic front line and could not keep Thompson or Justin Hamilton in front of him all night, especially during the free-throw line drive. While Illinois will need Davis to be better, at least he kept playing and didn’t sulk.

Mike Tisdale

7 points (3-7 shooting, 1-2 three, 0-0 free throws) 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block and 5 fouls in 21 minutes

● While I tend to be hard on Tisdale, I thought he played alright when able to stay on the court. Tisdale is just not a consistent go-to-guy and is merely a specialist/role player in my opinion. With that said, Tisdale played tougher than usual, grabbing a couple of nice offensive rebounds in the first and second half. Despite his impressive weight gains this summer, Tisdale is just not suited for a banging-style of game and will never stay on the court in such affairs, as seen last night. Ultimately, what continues to hurt Tisdale is his tendency to pick up a couple of silly fouls each game, specifically on the offensive end. Tisdale had a couple of offensive fouls against SIU and repeated this disturbing tendency against Texas, thus resulting in another short and ineffective night.

Brandon Paul

12 points (5-15 shooting, 2-8 from three), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 1 steal and 4 fouls in 32 minutes.

● Paul was huge in the first half, sparking the Illini with efficient scoring from the perimeter and at the rim, before tapering off a bit in the second half. Paul has really improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman season and is starting to do a lot of the little things more consistently. Playing under control, Paul is looking solid as a ball handler, running the offense with poise and making much better decisions as opposed to trying to hit the long ball. A lot of people will want Paul starting, but I feel he is better suited as this team’s sixth man, given his energy and ability to change games. As I’ve said before, Paul must start next season, when I think he’s going to break out not only in the Big Ten but nationally. While nowhere as good offensively in the second half, Paul made some nice defensive plays, stripping a Texas player on the baseline and holding his position on J’Covan Brown. Paul still needs to settle for less threes and attack the basket with much more aggression as he is way to athletic to throw up weak layups that were blocked away several times last night.

Jereme Richmond

11 points (4-8 shooting, 0-1 three, 3-8 free throws), 5 rebounds, 1 block and 5 fouls in 21 minutes

● Is Richmond already Illinois’ toughest and most composed player? It looked that way in the second half, with Richmond running the point in the final minutes of regulation and scoring a huge layup, off nice patience, to send the game to overtime. While I haven’t seen his outside game yet, Richmond has impressed with his ability to post up. He is determined but patient on the block, and uses the ball fake to his advantage. Richmond played with a good edge last night, and provided a big boost in the second half. On the defensive end, I like the fact that Richmond doesn’t have a problem banging with the big boys, as seen during a nasty block that started an Illinois break. The only thing that bothered me with Richmond last night was that he picked up his dribble for no reason at times. With all this mind, I wonder how long Illinois can afford Richmond coming off the bench?

Meyers Leonard

O points (0-1 shooting), 1 rebound and 2 fouls in 9 minutes

● Leonard didn’t have much of an impact, perhaps due to the bright lights of MSG. He went up way too soft on his one attempt of the game, which was pinned against the glass, and surprisingly only had 1 board. Expect Leonard to struggle at times and look great in other situations throughout his freshman season.

Tyler Griffey

0 points on 0 shots in 3 minutes

● Don’t know what to say except that Griffey needs more tick.

DNPs for Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand and Kevin Berardini

● No major surprises here.


Writing Illini will share similar observations following the UI-Maryland game today.