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Don’t have a cow.

Apart from completely failing to launch the thrilling game-winning shot, Illinois Basketball played the game it wanted to play Tuesday night despite losing to Clemson, 76–74. I ain’t even lyin’.

In practice Monday, assistant coach Wayne McCain warned the team that they could not miss any more flares (guys flashing outside for open threes) and hope to beat Clemson. He also guaranteed them that if they guarded, they would win. He was right. They stopped the flaring, and clamped down on the three.

Assistant coach Jay Price warned the team that Clemson’s big men would kick their asses if they didn’t play with intensity, speed and strength. He was right.

After Clemson snuck off with a victory, Demontez Stitt explained Illinois’s scouting failure, while head coach Oliver Purnell gave everyone the Evil Eye (above, right).


stittlaughing-1.jpgLater, a reporter for a Chicago newspaper asked if it was hard to get into the lane time after time after time after time. Stitt and Purnell just laughed (left).

Illinois scouted Clemson’s known strengths, and its own weaknesses. The Illini executed their plan. They were not beaten by the three. They were not beaten by the big guys laying it in. They were beaten by the little guy laying it in.

SORRY, I JINXED IT

Calling Chester Frazier superhuman turned out to be a mistake. Hours later, his body finally failed him. Frazier’s deep thigh bruise and fatigue were the difference, according to head coach Bruce Weber.

On the other hand, I don’t think I called Chester a superior basketball player. Frazier’s superhumanity is not about basketball, but about spirit. He’s also a much better basketball player than you think. He finished the game with a career-high 12 assists. I have to admit, however, that he also finished the game with the ball in his hands.

BUT LET ME TELL YOU THE GOOD NEWS

Illinois scored over 58 points. Whatever happens from here on out, you can feel content that Bruce Weber has heard your plea for scoring. And it was thrilling scoring. Especially Dominique Keller. Mike Davis is fun to watch, and he had one ballet move where he seemed to freeze-frame as he lofted towards the goal. But normally it’s hard to see Davis score because it happens faster than the human eye can perceive. Demetri McCamey moves in a chunkier, near slo-mo style. There’s an art to that, too, especially at the point when the bottom of the net SNAPS! you back to life-speed.

Dominique Keller is amazing. His shots were all highlight-reel material, and he didn’t miss any. Two of them found him in a difficult position, and on each, he instantaneously made exactly the right adjustment to get off a shot. My mouth actually dropped open, twice. I think it was a huge mistake for Weber to sit him for most of the second half “for defensive purposes.” No one else was defending Clemson’s bigs at that point anyway. They were too worn out. Keller also had 5 rebounds and a block in 10 minutes.

Mike Davis does not miss shots. Forget about his 12–19 field goal statistics. Those misses are all in your mind. Mike Davis is infallible. I think it was a huge mistake to stop packing it in to him. Don’t let anyone tell you it was the collapsed press which denied Davis the ball, either. He was calling for the ball. He had position.

Richard Semrau has arrived. He hit shots. He moved people around. In a career-high 27 minutes, he dominated Clemson’s big men on the boards, pulling down 4 on each end. In fact, the Illini had more offensive rebounds (15) than Clemson had defensive rebounds.

Demetri McCamey’s decision making has not completely matured, but he didn’t lose us the game, either. Weber thinks Trent Meacham was open on the failed last play. McCamey didn’t think so. You can’t tell this from the radio, but the Illini players and coach are not in the press room at the same time. They may still not realize that they disagree about this point. After watching the replay, I agree with McCamey. Had he passed to Meacham, Trent would have been double-teamed before he could get off his (let’s face it) not exactly lightning-quick shot. McCamey chose correctly. He passed to Frazier, with enough time for Chet to get off a shot.

Weber called for a three on the last play. He did not think the Illini would survive an overtime. He’s probably right. Clemson shot 58% for the game, and towards the end, they weren’t missing anything.

MIKE TISDALE 2.0

Interior intensity, speed and strength at Monday’s practice was demonstrated by Stan Simpson, who is not likely to play this year. Simpson slammed an attempted Tisdale fastbreak dunk down Tisdale’s throat and into Tisdale’s pancreas. “The Future!” chorused Simpson’s teammates as everyone ran back downcourt.

Tisdale version 1.5, the one that has adjusted to the quicker college game, got back downcourt, too — sans pouting. Tisdale version 2.0 will be the one who doesn’t get his shit stuffed.

Dominique Keller has learned to use his body to protect his shot from taller opponents. Indiana forward Daryl Thomas was good at it. Same with Iowa’s Greg Brunner. Tisdale must adjust to taller players. He must learn to use his body to protect his shot, and the ball. He absolutely has to stop getting ripped. He will in time. But the thing is, Tisdale never met anyone taller than himself until last Wednesday.

Against Clemson, Tisdale version 1.0 lasted for minutes before becoming a spectator. This may not seem to reflect on the loss, but maybe Tisdale’s wingspan might have helped deflect those many easy shots Clemson got in the second half.

SO I’M A CONTRARIAN, I GUESS

To some degree, I think the coaches have it wrong. Intensity is not missing from this Illini team. Rather, mindless grunting testosterone is missing. The Illini basketball team has more brainiacs than brawnies. Mike Davis, for example, is an obvious finesse player. His star rises despite a hulking frame. He seems unhappy a lot of the time. The coaches yell at him to work, and not goof off. But I don’t regard his behavior as goofing off. He’s thinking.

I was the same way in team sports, and although I would not compare myself to anyone with actual physical gifts or athleticism, I’m pretty sure I can recognize a fellow-traveler in the mentality field.

The psychologically strongest guys are Davis, McCamey, Alex Legion and Keller. All of them have been punished by the coaching staff for lack of focus or intensity. But Davis is the one to monitor. He’s different. The others are merely confident.

More later.

LOOKS GOOD IN ORANGE

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Noelle Thomas does not remember acquiring the lovely Cardigan sweater.

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Leslie Elble knitted the scarf herself, and got the turtleneck at The Gap.

LIKE A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH, BUT ABOUT BASKETBALL

FIRST HALF

Why’d McCamey pass up that open three-pointer on the first possession? He didn’t the next time. He didn’t the time after that. He couldn’t the next time because he was too occupied with laying it in.

It was the next time that he should have held back. He wasn’t set.

Grant: “Moving screen!”

At 13:09, Chester Frazier missed a slashing Calvin Brock for an easy inbounds lay-in

Trent to the hole a-fucking-gain.

They’re all over Oglesby at the arc. Trent is glued to his jersey. Tisdale gives help.

Lots of breaking-the-press, but not many lay-ups.

Weber: “Mike Davis! Why are you and Richard Semrau on the same side?!”

7:50 — Really loud for the first time this year.

7:28 — Davis dunks — REALLY LOUD for the first time this year. It was a good kind of hurt.

Forget the notion that The Nique is going to provide some minutes and rebounds. The team rarely does what Weber wants on offense. Remember how you never noticed him screaming until Deron and Luther were gone? There’s a reason.

Offensive rebounding is going well. Tisdale learns by watching.

Amazing reverse lay-in by Keller.

Semrau from 18 feet! Just like the old days.

These Illini don’t look afraid. They don’t look inexperienced. It’s not a swagger, just a confidence. Except for Keller: He’s a fucking bad ass.

Meacham to the hole AGAIN!

Tisdale returns with a minute left so he can lose his man again and pick up another foul. Actually, that’s not fair, he got a clean block and a horseshit call. The other dude kicked him in the nuts.

Davis stares down the entire Clemson bench as he drains the shot with :00.6 left.

SECOND HALF

Tisdale gets first possession, and immediately loses it. Then gets yanked.

Memo to team: Get the ball to Mike Davis. Then, run back down to play defense.

They’re breaking the press more frequently. Maybe Clemson should try something else.

Davis posterizes the entire universe.

Turnovers keep Illinois from expanding its lead. Bad pass by Davis. Not ready for receipt on the next play, by Semrau.

Unusual three-guard line up here with 13 minutes to go: Meacham, Jordan and Brock. It doesn’t completely work. Jordan passes to no one. But McCamey did that too, moments earlier.

Suddenly Clemson has the lead. How’d that happen? Well, apart from the turnovers, we stopped getting fastbreak points. We stopped getting the ball to Davis every single trip. And we kept giving them lay-ups.

Frazier finally gets it back, threading the needle to Davis for a jam.

Weber yells “get out of there Mike.” Mike (Davis) gets out of there. Frazier is left alone, double-teamed in the corner. He’s quickly forced out of bounds.

Ballhandling is becoming an issue. We are flustered by the press, now. It’s silly. Moments ago we broke it every trip. And as soon as I write it, they fall back into half-court defense. It must be a psychological trick, and it works. Time out Illinois. It seems like Clemson’s last 15 buckets have been from one-inch out or less. Demontez Stitt is gliding through the lane at will.

We need more Keller.

McCamey is out of control.

Ah, here come Keller and Jordan. Nope, during the timeout that becomes Keller and Frazier. Semrau is out. Suddenly Clemson gets consecutive boards.

Davis calls for the ball underneath. He has position. Instead, McCamey drives right, to the spot where he’s goofed the last two times. This time, however, he drains a 12-footer.

Semrau is back.

Here we go. The finish. Starting five, except Semrau is in for Tisdale. Booker takes it inside immediately. Good for two free-throws.

Another Clemson timeout. I don’t know what Purnell has in mind, but I assume it’s more about defense than offense. All the Tigers have to do is go through the lane, and lay the ball in the basket. It’s not Computer Science Engineering.

Eleven seconds to go. We will get the ball again, down two, three or four.

What the fuck just happened?