Smile Politely

After 364 days, the Game of the Year

Illini fans got a real treat on the last day of 2013. They saw one of the best individual performances in the history of the State Farm Center. They saw one of the worst individual officiating performances of the season. They saw an Illini star rise above expectations, to tie a career high for points. And to top it off, Illinois defeated Indiana.

The hangover looms.

First, the amazing performance: Yogi Ferrell was 9-15 from the floor, including 5-8 from three, and hit 7-7 from the line. He also grabbed five rebounds and a steal, and dished four assists in 43 minutes. If it weren’t for his six turnovers, the Hoosiers prolly woulda won.

But I don’t blame him for the turnovers. That’s what happens when you’re playing one gear above your teammates. You cruise past while they’re stuck in third. Yogi’s teammates couldn’t keep up with him. It was a pleasure to watch, for all of those reasons.

And when the game was over, Illinois had more points! Everybody wins!

Regular readers will know that I generally scoff at officiating complaints. Every game produces a message board post about the refs. It’s almost always myopic, and biased.

On the contrary, I like to write nice things about the stripey guys. See my remarks of David Hall’s performance at Portland, the most recent example.

Mark Whitehead called the worst game I’ve ever seen in person.

The other two officials were up to their usual standards. Terry Oglesby did just fine, as far as I saw. Bo Boroski assessed a phantom over-the-back against Jon Ekey, in the closing minutes, but that’s it.

Whitehead got everything wrong. So at least he was consistent.

The fireworks started when Whitehead botched two consecutive calls. First, an IU defender knocked the ball out of Joe Bertrand’s hands at 7:44 of the first half.

Whitehead awarded the ball to the Hoosiers.

Twelve seconds later, Whitehead tagged Nnanna Egwu with a blocking foul. It was Egwu’s second foul. The contact occurred when Noah Vonleh lowered his head, and charged, shoulders first, into the upright/motionless Nnanna.

John Groce exploded.

“What’s he supposed to do?!?! WHAT’S HE SUPPOSED TO DO BO?!?!?” demanded Groce, to Boroski (in better position to see, i.e. the guy who should have assessed any called foul).

Could Whitehead have been overemphasizing the new hand-checking rule which defers to the offensive player?

Probably not, because with a minute left in the half, Yogi Ferrell attached himself, bodily, to Tracy Abrams — directly in front of Whitehead, and outside the south goal’s three-point arc.

For the perimeter official (Whitehead) it’s not difficult to see excessive touching from this range. It’s easy for most people to see it, as it’s far outsde the paint. I could see it clearly from under the opposite basket. John Groce could see it cleary, from the opposite bench.

Whitehead allowed the rough play, but assessed Groce a technical foul. (I didn’t see or hear anything from Groce or his bench.)

In the end, Whitehead’s awful afternoon worked out for the Illini. With a clear view of Jon Ekey rolling across the floor, ball in hand, Whitehead skipped the obvious travel call in favor of an awarded time-out to the Illini bench. Because of the cropping, you can’t see Ekey’s full slide here, but then, neither could Whitehead.


Two very young prospects enjoyed the game Tuesday.

Nojel Eastern is a freshman from Evanston. He’s much smarter, and more worldly, than your typical 13-to-14 year-old. He hasn’t locked in on the name of his primary Illini recruiter. Frankly, that’s not his problem.

The same can be said of East St. Louis’s Jeremiah Tilmon Jr.  

He was completely comfortable with the media attention (no matter what Taylor says), and enoyed his first visit to Champaign.

Remember Weberball?  

Imagine this game funneled through a Weberball valve. Illinois hit 2-of-17 from deep. Indiana won the battle of the boards 43 to 31.

Oh, and Bruce Weber passed on Rayvonte Rice.

Rice had a mediocre game by Ray Rice standards. He hit only 40% of his shots from the floor, and only 2-of-6 from long range. He missed two ginormously important free throws in crunchtime.

But it’s hard to overlook his 29 points, including 11 from the line. Those numbers just sort of impose their will on the observer, like Ray Rice does to defenses. Toss in eight rebounds, three steals, and two assists (including this bitchin’ lob to Joe Bertrand) and it’s easy to see why Weber and his fellow skeptics were right about Ray Rice.

Oh, I like to have my little laugh.


We’re just about midway through the season, and I’ve already run out of nouns for describing Ray Rice. I may be forced to resort to that bane of bad writers everywhere, adjectives.

But as I’ve written here already, words can’t really describe Ray Rice. To say he “put some English” on the ball never captures the trajectory of the spin. To say he “plowed through the lane” fails to convey the blunt force trauma, or its contrapuntal accompaniment, the light step.

For the love of Pete, Ray just had an off-night and SCORED 29 POINTS! See, I can’t explain it. But nevermind. It’s time to start drinking.

I’ll leave you with a final thought.

Indiana’s E. Gordon of Indianapolis North Central High School had a chance at a game-winning shot. He completely and thoroughly botched it. His eight-footer traveled about six feet. Tom Crean talked about the play in his postgame, and praised E. Gordon of Indianapolis North Central High School’s effort. But that’s coachspeak. E. Gordon of Indianapolis North Central High School froze. When the pressure was on, E. Gordon of Indianapolis North Central High School fell apart. He choked.

Happy new Illini.

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