The Senior Day win over Nebraska was the best game of the year. For once the Illini held off a sharp-shooting team.
From Maui wins to Northwestern loss, the formula was pretty simple in the season’s first half: The hot-handed team prevails. This time, Illinois withstood 50% shooting from deep. They carved eight percentage points off the overall FG percentage after halftime (50 to 41.9).
Brandon Paul played within himself, leading a spectacular stand-off (five assists, one turnover) to keep the Cornhuskers from drawing even. Tracy Abrams drove right down Nebraska’s gullet, and stroked 6-of-6 free throws when they stepped in his way. As a team, Illinois hit 15-of-18 free throws, including every single attempt in crunch time. That’s excellent.
Best of all, it was a team effort. Everybody contributed to the best of his abilities.
ON THE MYKE
We, the internet-oriented fans of Illini basketball, took note of this week’s rumor. Mike Shaw & Myke Henry are transferring, it said.
It could be true, I suppose. But it seems unlikely that Myke’s mother would learn about it from me. Vanessa McKinney attended the Nebraska game, and her reaction and response demonstrated (both non-verbally and verbally) that a Myke Henry transfer was nowhere on her radar. Myke is close with his mom. Take that for what it’s worth.
I didn’t ask Myke about it. It’s not the kind of question that generates an answer.
I did talk to Myke before the game, and he seemed both light-hearted (normal) and feisty. This was during warm-ups, about 45 minutes before tip-off. I was talking with Paris Parham when Myke sauntered over to pepper me with questions, which he regarded as fair because “you always ask questions.” I’d like to know whether the rumors put the bee in Myke’s bonnet. But it’s really not the sort of thing you’re meant to ask a coach and player during pre-game warm-ups.
Whatever it was, Illini fans want more. Myke’s easy-going personality often obscures the intensity of his game. His 12 points and 9 rebounds, while good, are not numbers that dazzle far-flung box score checkers. No one in Bristol or Manhattan took note. It would’ve helped if Myke’s best play — the play of the day and the play of his career so far — hadn’t unfolded in the far corner, moving away from, and largely out, of TV’s view.
With :59 to go and a four point lead, Myke stole an offensive rebound from two Huskers, both of whom had better position. It was sheer effort, and it changed the game.
In Champaign, everyone in the northwest corner noticed. The play nearly landed Myke in his mom’s lap.
SAM McLAURIN’S LEGS
In his final appearance at the Assembly Hall, Sam played only eight minutes. He twisted an ankle, and couldn’t go in the second half. We’ll hope it’s not a Kenny Battle Kingdome kind of injury — the kind that changes post-season fortunes.
Sam’s legs are weird to begin with. One of them moves, the other doesn’t. It’s not because of the minor surgery that repaired a torn meniscus. He was just born that way. As a child, his doctor recommended he wear braces “like in Forrest Gump.” He did not. And so his legs still rotate in mysterious ways.
But they work! And if we’re lucky, they’ll continue to work after a couple of days’ rest.
When Ben McLemore visited, a couple of years back, he kept to himself. He ate the nachos, watched the game, and then left. Now he plays at Kansas.
On Saturday, Cliff Alexander arrived just before tip-off. He ate the nachos. And then he stuck around for quite some time afterward. He’s friends with Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, who were both on hand along with Simeon teammate Saieed Ivey.
Cliff smiled a lot, not least when the Orange Krush chanted “we want Cliff, we want Cliff!” at halftime. He had a mouthful of nachos at the time, too. It caught him off guard.
But he didn’t mind. Not at all.