Hashtag roadkill hashtag road warriors hashtag business trip. Look, we all know what this season became, and where it's going to end up, but for now, I think I'm just going to enjoy beating the NUrds. In fact, I'm going to write this post blissfully ignorant of January. We've covered all the negatives - let's talk positive signs. And let's number them.
1. The Freshmen
Te'Jon Lucas - 11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds
Kipper Nichols - 9 points on 3-4 FG and 2-3 FT
I'm very susceptible to ear worms. You know - songs that get stuck in your head. The song currently stuck: Don't Stop Me Now by Queen (long story). I'm sitting here typing and in my head it's this constant "don't. stop me nowwww (I'm havin' such a good time - I'm having a ball)".
And that's my general mood towards the freshmen. All I tweeted about in the first half was more Kipper, more Te'Jon. It's all I want right now. If we're going to miss our fourth straight tournament, then I need something to cling to for the future, and right now that's Kipper and Te'Jon. As many minutes as we can play them.
The keys to this win might have been 1) Te'Jon's 33 minutes, 2) Finke's big second half, and 3) Kipper's first half surge during our run. Freshman, sophomore, freshman. More please. Don't stop now.
I'm a rocket ship on my way to Mars, on a collision course, I am a satellite, out of control. (WAIT, what's this song about?)
2. A Shooting Star Leaping Through The Sky
Let's get something straight first: we won because the shots fell. We've already established that for this season: we're not going to D our way to a win, we're not going to rebound our way to a win - we'll win when the shots fall.
And in the second half, both teams put up 24 shots. Northwestern made 8, Illinois made 14, chicken dinner. If a game is tied at halftime, and one team shoots 58% percent in the second half while the other team shoots 33%, that first team is probably going to win (unless they turn it over a dozen times and give up every rebound).
But as Tyler pointed out on Twitter, one big reason our shots fell was that we took better shots. (And I think we took better shots mostly because of Te'Jon running the offense.) Threes and layups - the sermon Tyler has been preaching all season.
Don't stop us now - we're having such a good time, we're shooting the ball.
3. Rotation station
(Tate 0, Thorne 0, DJW 0)
Apart from my waking up the dog asking the television "why is Kipper not in?" at the start of the second half, I was fairly happy with this rotation. Te'Jon gets the keys to the offense, Mav and Malcolm are the senior mainstays, use Tracy situationally, if Finke is out-playing Leron give him all the majority of minutes, JCL gets his, Kipper gets more - I like it all.
Perhaps this is the moment this season we settle on a rotation? Perhaps we see 30+ from Te'Jon the rest of the way? Perhaps Kipper plays at least 15 minutes from here forward? We shall see.
When we went down three with 3:30 remaining, I figured that was it. Nice little fight on the road (finally), but Northwestern will get their head on straight and win running away in the final three minutes.
And then BANG a Fink3 ties it. And then the teams trade free throws, followed by a Te'Jon layup, followed by BANG a Finke steal (he gets credit for the poke-away on the tie-up) and then BANG a Finke two from the lane makes it a two possession game with a minute to go.
Yes, we need to give Malcolm a lot of credit for his 14 second-half points (specifically, his ability to get to the line) which helped us win the game. But Finke's second half, especially the three steals, were a huge part of this win. As I mentioned above, having a few freshmen and sophomores put this game away is good for my basketball soul. I need some hope for the future.
So yes, if we lose to Penn State on Saturday, all of this temporary joy I feel will be gone. The fact that this was only our 14th win of the season is not lost on me. Big picture, I understand that this means very little.
But I really needed this. I needed to do that loud clap thing I do when I determine that the game is officially salted away. I needed to fist pump when the Fink3 fell. I needed to get up off the couch during Kipper's first half run. Even if this is only temporary, I needed the feeling of a solid road win.
Especially over the NUrds.