DJ Richardson seems the unheralded hero of Saturday's win at Indiana.
Jeff Jordan made the signature play. Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey led the scoring charge. But DJ was the difference in the game. He played spanner to Indiana's works. His stat line shows three steals but DJ's hands were everywhere. Like Bill Cole's frenetic perimeter defense and Richard Semrau's spastic box outs; DJ's disruptive capablities don't always show up in any column. All of these things result in bad possessions for opposing teams, and increased possessions for Illinois.
The Illini needed those extra possessions in the second half, when DJ's controlled chaos rattled the Hoosiers into repeated turnovers and bad shots.
PATAD — A SILENT MOMENTUM KILLER
Maybe clawing its way out of a hole was the only way Illinois could have won this game. The offense looked crap again.
I'm starting to recognize that personnel may not affect a Weber-coached team's immunity to Passing Around The Arc Disease. It's not just that Dee Brown has no offensive support. It's not just that Chester Frazier isn't quick enough with the assist.
At some point, every Illini player becomes infected.
Even Jeff Jordan passed the ball around the arc while Indiana methodically built a solid defensive wall around the interior. Mike Davis got only two field goal attempts. Flag that stat. In fact, red flag it.
Yes, Mike Tisdale scored a lot. But half his points came from the charity stripe, while various of his field goal attempts were launched more than 15 feet from the basket.
When the Illini managed to get the ball inside, Tisdale got pushed around. His hook shots clanged. One was blocked, even.
But the best example of The Motion Problem was Demetri McCamey eschewing a lay-in in favor of a kick out. (Why did he kick it out? Did he suffer a last moment anxiety attack, thinking he was shooting too soon?) The ball whipped around the arc to find McCamey, again. This time he shot. Passing up a two-footer for a 21-footer is nuts. The ball missed its target.
But at least that play was exciting. The drudgery is watching Illinois aimlessly pass the ball around the perimeter while the shot clock whittles away. There was plenty of that Saturday. In fact, Illinois almost got another shot clock violation. I suppose that made Bruce Weber happy.
SO HOW DID THEY DO IT?
The comeback points came from defense. Illinois got a lot of fast breaks, and often didn't have time to set up the O.
But the Hoosier's defeat really came down to one rebound and one shot. Jeff Jordan got the rebound.
It happended at 1:46. Demetri McCamey launched a three-pointer from so far out that Mike Davis was able to take 5 different footsteps in adjusting his position for a rebound. Davis was also fighting for position while he maneuvered. But the carom went long, and toward a mass of white uniforms.
Jordan knifed through the lane and leapt straight in the air displaying the 46-inch vertical jump we haven't seen enough this year. This feat of athletic effort might turn out to be the difference between NCAA and NIT. It could be the moment that decides the 2010 Big Ten Championship. You never know.
But at the moment Jordan grabbed that board, Illinois was losing on the road, with time running out, and had just fumbled its way through another dismal possession. This time Bruce Weber had the sense to call a timeout to draw up a set play. Moments later, DJ buried a well-screened jumper.
The other decisive play was a shot that missed.
Christian Watford, an 80% free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 65 seconds remaining and his team down one. Coach Tom Crean said afterward there's no one he'd rather have on the line in that situation. Nevertheless, you have to think Watford will be haunted by it for some time.
After the game, Watford returned to practice free throws.
THANK OUR LUCKY STRIPES
Without the assistance of the men in stripes, this game would have been a blowout. Luckily for Illinois, the officiating crew had slept badly and was feeling irritable. Illinois made 10 more free throws than Indiana attempted.
The discrepancy pissed Tom Crean off. And that's probably fair. Whether fouls were called equally in each direction, they were called more often than usual. Take last weekend for example. If Rob Sacre's interior bulldozing had been scrutinized and penalized as were Indiana's bigs, Illinois would have beat Gonzaga by 15.
Crean might recall his team was allowed to beat Brandon Paul to a bloody pulp. But that was before the refs had completed their yoga regimen, when their sense of balance and energy was still out of whack.
Paul's head and left arm were reattached at halftime
Tom Crean has no eyebrows.
BRUCE WEBER'S ON COURT DEMEANOR
Opponent student sections have long since figured out that Bruce Weber spends too much time on the court.
At Indiana his sixth-man impression might have earned a technical foul. In the first half, he blocked the perimeter path, denying Jordan Hulls the opportunity to run the sideline for an open three.
It didn't always work, of course. Hulls was 3-for-3 in the first half, despite Weber's maneuvering.
This has got to stop.
The Indiana student section spent too much time organizing chants of "SHUT UP WEBER" to effectively call attention to Weber's inappropriate spacing. Students nearest the bench became reticent when one of their fellows was briefly detained by a cop for shouting: "WEBER YOU'RE A FAGGOT!"
That same student student was also displeased by "Devan Dumb-ass" taking off-balance shots. This vocabulary displays the classical educational advancements attainable at Indiana University — the Big Ten's eleventh most academically renowned institution of higher learning.
LOCAL KID BLOOMING IN BLOOMINGTON
Champaign Central's Verdell Jones III led the Hoosiers with 13 points. He added four assists and four rebounds, but also committed four turnovers.
Verdell likes it in southern Indiana, and credits the Hoosier coaching staff with his development.
IT'S LIKE A DIFFERENT COUNTRY DOWN THERE
Verdell spoke with the media some time after eleven. This caused no end of nail-biting among the Illinois-oriented media, and especially the TV guys. Verdell is a story here in Champaign, no matter how he performs. And in this game, he was Indiana's top performer.
It seems the Sports Information staff at Indiana has a relaxed attitude about facilitating media coverage. For example, the SID asked me whether he'd approved me for the game. This as I stood in the press room, wearing a credential.
He said the Minnesota game would have been better, because Illinois is such a busy game. I explained that, as an Illinois basketball beat writer, it was really the Illinois game that most interested me.
Sports information staffs sometimes communicate with each other about their lists of usual suspects (AKA the credentialed media).
The truth is that Smile Politely never received any confirmation, rejection, or any other form of communication from Indiana — only directions on where to park. (This followed by an eleventh hour email from the Illinois staff, providing an emergency phone number to any press who might have trouble gaining admission to the lot.)
Tony Pomonis found a spot on the floor. Some Indianapolis newspaper's photog hadn't shown up.
I was able to find an open seat in the back of the tertiary media area, where I had a partial view of the court. Frustrated by my inability to see the game, I moved to an open bleacher seat, just behind the secondary media area. That's where legitimate Illini journalists were seated, on the baseline between the Illinois bench and Indiana students. The regular Indiana media sit with the radio people at mid-court, where they can see.
At halftime, we went to the last row of the upper deck, and watched the game from about a mile away. I correctly inferred that Indiana's collection of enormous cardboard cut-outs would be redistributed from one side of the court to the other, for opponent distraction purposes.
While we couldn't see anything up close, we could at least see. Former WCIA sports director Chris Widlic, now at WISH in Indianapolis, stayed in the bleachers. He confirmed that his view of the second half was largely obstructed.
After the game, we waited a long time for any information. Then we waited half an hour between Weber's statement and Crean's. Finally Indiana players moseyed in a while after that, but were directed to different areas of the room rather than in front of the three available microphones.
There are advantages and disadvantages with this set up. The tech equipment at IU is no good, so it was useful having my own microphone in Verdell's face. On the downside, all the waiting around and uncertainty meant I was unable to talk to any Illinois players at all.
I told an IUSID staffer about the buzz in the audio line, even though it seemed pretty clear that there was no way of adjusting it. I probably shouldn't have said anything at all, considering he had the stack of stat sheets for which journalists in the room had already waited for half an hour.
Anyway, sorry about the buzz.
I don't generally include audio from the whole presser. This one was especially interesting. Tom Crean is combative. I think I like it. I'm including Weber's mostly so you know what he didn't say. Crean was angry that Weber told his players Indiana had practiced in football pads.
This is hearsay, and it came from a reporter who'd skipped Weber's presser to talk to Illini players. He attributed the quote to them. It may have happened, but as I said, delays in the press room prevented me from talking to any Illini players after the game.
All this last bit may not seem of interest to some readers. But it affects the way we all get Illini basketball information. Like sausage-making, you'd rather not notice the process at all, just the product.
I recognize that the IU Sports Information department may be short-handed. Their athletic program lacks the financial solvency we take for granted. They've never been a football school, and because of the Cellvin Samsung debacle and its aftermath, there were plenty of empty seats at the basketball game.
When I got home at 2:30 a.m. ET, I quickly threw together some Verdell soundbites for the early morning radio newscast. Then, before climbing in bed, I emailed Illinois' assistant SID for men's basketball, and complimented him on the well-oiled machine they've got running here.