The first assumption of Poetry in the Motion is that you saw the game. That’s why I rarely bother to convey the score.
But it’s pretty obvious that no one (at least no one who rants on message boards) saw the Dartmouth game last night. So let me explain the basics.
First, Illinois did not play badly.
Dartmouth is now 3-4 on the year, and they have no scholarship players, but they were not a terrible team.
Forward Connor Boehm (a New Trier graduate) and center Gabas Maldunas were two of the craftiest interior maneuverers the Illini will likely face this year. Each displayed footwork reminiscent of Iowa’s Jess Settles, or this Illinois team’s top scorer, Ray Rice.
Each was able to take the ball from the high post, or the short corner, and work his way to the basket. Each knew when to drive all the way, and when to pull up for a teardrop.
Frankly, I enjoyed watching them play. It was a pleasure to see two smart players who understood spacing, their strengths & shortcomings, and defensive weak spots.
Maldunas was also the frustrating kind of Euro-big who didn’t seem especially bothered when his shot didn’t go in. That’s why he’s playing at Dartmouth instead of Gonzaga. He shot the ball with both hands, but he missed more than half his attempts (8-17), many from two feet away. He was spectacular to watch, but he didn’t finish (recalling James Augustine’s worst tendencies). If you were a Dartmouth fan, you’d certainly have a love/hate relationship with Maldunas.
Those two Big Green got little help from the littler Big Green. Point guard Alex Mitola displayed moxie while making a lot of bad decisions. He was 2-for-9 from the field (both from three), with 5 assists and 2 turnovers. Those stats make his game seem better than it was.
Starting forward John Golden disappeared shortly after the tip. He was 0-for-4 from the field, grabbed 2 rebounds and hit 2 free-throws. In 19 minutes, he fouled no one.
Usual starter Tyler Melville came off the bench, but played starter’s minutes, if ineffectively (2-for-8, 7 points in 30 minutes).
The lone bright spot in the supporting cast was freshman Eli Harrison, who buried 5-of-8 (4-of-7) from the floor, for 14 points. Coach Paul Cormier praised his effort, while also challenging him to keep at it.
And what of Illinois? Did everyone have an off-night?
No, not at all. In fact, everyone played pretty well. The scoring was shared evenly by six guys:
- Ray Rice – 13
- Joe Bertrand – 11
- Jon Ekey – 11
- Nnanna Egwu – 11
- Malcolm Hill – 10
- Tracy Abrams – 9
The freshmen, excepting Austin Colbert, saw a lot of tic. John Groce was pleased with all of them. Malcolm Hill and Maverick Morgan especially helped with Illinois’ glaring Achilles’ Heel, rebounding.
Ekey grabbed only 3 rebounds, and Egwu only 4, while Boehm and Maldunas each speared 9. Intriguingly, Egwu picked up his only foul with 1:34 remaining in the game.
Stat-watcher Kathi LaTulip was a bit shaken up about the rebounding discrepancy, so I assume there are others out there who attended the game and were also misled by the Daktronics display board. When fans left the arena, Daktronics showed Dartmouth with a 37-27 rebounding advantage. The official stats show 33-27.
SID Kent Brown said there’s something inexplicable about the computer that runs Daktronics. Because it’s inexplicable, he couldn’t explain it. That’s how that works.
Kathi was also a bit worn out by an afternoon of looking after eldest son Joe, who has mono. (Now we’ll all have to closely monitor the health of the Illini team, and hope that Joe didn’t share his Gatorade bottle with anyone.) Because Gary LaTulip stayed in Bloomington to watch youngest son Mitch’s game (Central Catholic), she was pulling a double on supportive parenting duty.
As a team, Illinois committed only 16 personal fouls (Ekey had four) and coughed up only 9 turnovers.
The final box score might indicate Ekey got played like a fiddle on defense, but his effort was marginalized by a trio of referees whose ideas about holding & moving screens differ, significantly, from the Illini coaching staff.
That’s really the story of the game.
Maldunas & Boehm — and the teammates who set screens for them while grabbing Illini defenders by the arm — took advantage of every leniency. That’s why they go to Dartmouth: They’re smart.
John Groce was so angry about it, he uttered a four-letter word at referee Eric Curry. I’ve never heard Groce speak a four-letter word before.
I don’t want to impute the officiating was bad. I have vague memories of Eric Curry, and no memories of him blowing a call.
I like Steve McJunkins, and I think Jim Schipper is one of the best referees in the country.
The problem with the officiating was simply that the Illini have been coached to a different interpretation of the rules. Maybe the Big Ten office will examine the discrepancy, and offer a correction.
But for the short term, it doesn’t matter. Illinois won handily. The game got a little uncomfortable with about four minutes to go, but our knight in shining body armor (Ray Rice) stepped up, again. When the Big Green closed within eight points, Ray brought the ball up the court, stepped into a three, and nailed it. A minute later, Jon Ekey drained another three.
A late flurry of threes by Dartmouth brought them within five points (with 25 seconds left), and the final margin was seven. But because Illinois took care of business at the free-throw line (except Tracy Abrams, who hit one of two), the last minute was not as nerve-wracking as the Online Rant Crowd seems to think from having observed via Gametracker.
The next big green team will be a considerably more challenging, although not actually all that big. Oregon is undefeated on the year. And if you’ve ever flown to Portland, you know that it’s much farther away than anywhere else in the United States. (I’m not sure how that works, but it’s true.) I’m pretty sure I’ll be worn out by my trip west. Let’s just hope the team is more resilient than I am.
Jeni Thomas and Allison Groce were the honorary team captains. Jeni was the high bidder for the opportunity, at a Rebounders Club fundraiser. She called Allison to invite her to join. Instead of sitting behind the team, they pulled their chairs alongside Mike Basgier.
Who’s going to tell them otherwise?
Decatur Herald & Review photographer Stephen Haas let them play with his enormous cameras. All the baseline photogs thought it was hilarious.