Find A Way
"But we're so young." "But we only have four players returning from last year." "But we overhauled the entire roster and that takes time." These are some of the things I said last year. These are not things I will say this year. We're in NO BUTS territory.
I'm basing this off a tweet I sent out at halftime. This is not a call-out or anything - I just want to point to where I'm at and why this win was so important. Here's what I tweeted:
6 for 31
six for thirty one
At home against Rutgers, after beating Wisconsin on the road, and 6 for 31.
-- Robert (@ALionEye) January 11, 2020
And here was one of the responses I received:
This Rutgers team is 12-3 and longer than what we've seen this season.
-- Cam Newton, Bears QB in 2020 (@Sam_Pille) January 11, 2020
And this was my response. Again, not a call-out - just trying to lay some groundwork:
They also lost to St. Bonaventure on a neutral court and are currently missing Geo Baker. This Rutgers team is a bubble team at best, and we're losing to them at home.
We're in "no buts" territory. Find a way. https://t.co/cRC00oii1f
-- Robert (@ALionEye) January 11, 2020
I didn't really expect my emotions to shift this much once we reached that "2.5 years" mark that I talk about all the time. But we're now officially in the second half of Year Three and that's where I find myself. Yes, there are #reasons for some of the things that are happening, but I'm 100% at "FIND A WAY" right now. And, it must be noted, we found a way.
(To be fair to "Cam Newton, Bears QB In 2020", he did clarify and say he agreed with the second part of my tweet - he was just pointing out that we're a sleepy starting team and they're a muck-it-up defensive team. I'm simply using his tweet to set up how I watched this game.)
How I watched this game: find a way. No excuses. No "we got back late from Wisconsin on Wednesday and had a bad practice and this is an early game on Saturday". Find a way. Other people were tweeting me that Rutgers is a Quad 1 team in the NET rankings and this was going to be a battle. I just don't accept that. Rutgers, who I believe to be a wrong-side-of-the-bubble team ultimately - was missing their star (Geo Baker). And, most importantly, this is a Big Ten road game. I don't care about anything besides us finding a way to win when we're playing this poorly.
We found a way. And mostly we found a way because the preseason First Team All Big Ten selection Ayo Dosumnu played like a First Team All Big Ten player. When a game is going like this - one team shooting 34%, another team shooting 29% - it really should come down to your Guy. Our Guy took over, their Guy is injured, we won.
Like, he took over took over. It was tied, and then, 57 seconds later, Illinois was up by six and the game was over. The plays in there:
- Ayo beats his guy, takes it to the rim, gets fouled. Hits both free throws to put Illinois up 2.
- Rutgers gets called for a moving screen, Illinois ball.
- Ayo dishes to Trent for an open three, Trent misses, Giorgi gets the rebound and sends it back out top to Ayo. Ayo drives to the rim and scores. Illini up 4.
- Young from Rutgers misses a jumper, Ayo skies for the rebound (like, SKIES). He's immediately fouled, hits both free throws, Illini up 6 with 37 seconds left, game essentially over.
- Wait it's not over, Rutgers hits a three so it's still somewhat in doubt. We get the ball to Ayo, he's fouled, he sinks both free throws again, now it's really over.
That's everything you want in a game like this. That's how games like this used to go in this building. Everyone plays a clunker here and there, so you turn to your Guy and you ask him to rescue you from the clunker. We'd turn to Kendall Gill or we'd turn to Kiwane Garris or we'd turn to Frank Williams or we'd turn to Deron Williams and we'd ask them to bail us out. And they always bailed us out.
Today, Ayo bailed us out. His second half stats (just the second half):
16 points on 4-7 shooting, 1-1 from three, 7-8 from the line, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Our Guy took over, we won. And now, despite shooting 28.6% from the field in this one, we're 4-2 in the Big Ten (solo 2nd place) with a week off and then last-place Northwestern coming to Champaign. Get to 5-2, maintain 2nd place, and then a chance to really make some noise at Purdue or at Michigan.
+ Of course, we, uh, we still can't shoot the basketball. And I hear that's important.
18 for 63 today (in a win!). 2-14 from three. There are two "shooters" on the team and they were 1-9 (Griffin) and 1-8 (Trent). You shooters go 2-17, your team shoots 28.6%, and you win?
How did we win? Well, we played solid defense (Rutgers shot 33.9%), we rebounded (Kofi had 17), and we got to the line late. Well, "got to the rim" is probably a better way to put it. Ayo and Feliz got to the rim and either scored or drew the foul and went to the line. That's where the game turned. I'd have to go back and look, but I think the only two jumpers in the final eight minutes were the three from Griffin (which he made) and the three from Trent (which he missed). Everything else was either Feliz or Ayo getting to the rim (one time dishing to Kofi for the dunk).
BUT (ha), that won't work on the road. We had to hit five consecutive shots to close out a one-point win at Wisconsin (four of them threes). If we want to win on the road, we'll have to do that several more times. Do we have it in us?
+ As I'm sitting here typing I heard the postgame radio show over the speakers and I ~think~ I heard Underwood say that Andres Feliz found out this morning that his grandmother had passed away. If that's true (I'm 96% certain that's what I heard), then what a second half performance. Just like the Grand Canyon game, he helped take over down the stretch. And to do that right after finding out his grandmother had passed away? Props to you, Dre.
+ If we go to the Tournament this year (it's early, but right now we're probably in as a 9 or 10 seed), then we'll probably look back on this week as the point where it all clicked. A Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule and we do this (using the current NET rankings for this):
- Beat Purdue (45) in Champaign 63-37
- Beat Wisconsin (32) in Madison 71-70
- Beat Rutgers (21) in Champaign 54-51
By the end of the year, I'm guessing the Rutgers ranking is in the 50's and the Purdue ranking is maybe a little higher. But still - three solid opponents, three wins, we've now put ourselves squarely in the bracket. Now, please keep it up.
And learn how to make the ball go through the net when jumping and releasing it on an arc-like trajectory towards the basket.