Not Our Night
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It's 3:56 am. That's not a joke - that's really the time. I just wrote for nearly six hours, saved it, and am not sure if I'll ever publish it. It had nothing to do with Illini basketball and everything to do with Covid protocols in Big Ten basketball arenas. I need to sleep on it. Right now, probably only a 20% chance I ever publish it.
I felt like I needed to get it out of my brain, but here we are six hours later and it's all I'm thinking about. The gist: there was a guy in my press seat when I got to Breslin, and usually that's "whatever" but he was a fan, not media (at least I didn't see a credential, and he was clapping/cheering for MSU). I found a vacant seat but wasn't sure if I should be sitting there (the rules are usually very strict given the pandemic). Brought it up to the MSU staff but they didn't seem concerned. And that made me realize that when you attend 15 basketball games with over-the-top safety protocols, attending the one with the fewest protocols makes you feel oddly unsafe, even though I have no idea what is "safe" or "unsafe" during this pandemic.
Perhaps this is just something that all of us will be going through over the months and years ahead. The virus will be gone (whenever it's gone) and we'll be on a crowded dance floor at a wedding feeling like "are we SURE it's safe for grandma to be out here?". It will be completely safe, but we just spent so much time at "better safe than sorry" that just normal behavior feels unsafe.
It was basically that, only 3,000 words.
Anyway, if you're wondering why I barely tweeted in the second half (and I don't think I've tweeted anything since about the 10:00 mark), that's why. I ended up leaving right at the final buzzer. It was the ultimate "better safe than sorry" move, but after collecting the media info from the guy's desk (the media info left there for me), I had this realization that I probably shouldn't be taking handoffs from this dude. I know the media around us went through the screening process, but did he? It's like 99.7% safe but something about the 0.3% made me get up and leave.
It's so weird to find myself there. Sitting there, trying to watch the game, thoughts of "you know, this is the first game I've attended where there was no temperature screening at the door..." building in my head. I've never been a "better safe than sorry" person my entire life. But tonight, the moment the game ended, it felt like the wisest thing to do was to skip the Zoom press conferences and get back to my hotel room. Maybe this is the same reason that woman got off the plane on Sunday.
The game? I performed terribly. Just call me Ratio City Music Hall. I called the first half the worst half of the season (which I still kinda believe at this moment even though I appear to be on an island). The most common reply was that the Northwestern first half was worse. The way I remember the Northwestern first half, it was fairly even and then in the last five minutes Northwestern went on a 12-0 run or something and it was 15 at the half.
Let me go look that up. Against Northwestern, Illinois was 8-23 in the first half. Tonight, Illinois was 7-29 (24%) with 8 turnovers. Hmmm... maybe I wasn't too far off. Maybe the ratio was bad.
Still wasn't my best effort. I kept getting texts about the officiating, but I was at a 9 out of 100 on the Stupid Ref scale. I just saw us getting out-muscled and out-hustled. Until I saw the tweets (and some texts from friends), I had no feeling of "man, the refs are jobbing us" in this one. But I'm far away and you're watching up close, with four replays, in HD, so you have a much better seat.
What I saw from my seat was an Illinois team getting muscled. Here's what I tweeted about 10 minutes into the game:
My feel so far: Michigan State said "let's be really, really physical with them and if we foul, we foul". They've fouled, but they've also taken us completely out of everything we're trying to do.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) February 24, 2021
That's pretty much how I felt the whole game. Fouls were called - final tally was 24-19 Michigan State - but Michigan State didn't care. They knocked us off our game (literally) and we didn't have much of a response.
I mean, we could have taken advantage of all those fouls. We got to the line 34 times (at Michigan State!). But we only made 19 of those - Ayo 4-8, Kofi 3-11 - and that was that.
Just a really bad loss in all aspects. Michigan State has the name "Michigan State", but their five conference wins before tonight: Nebraska twice, Penn State, Rutgers, and Indiana. In their last home game they lost to Iowa by 30. Usually "we lost at Breslin" is understandable, but this year it really stings.
Still, this is a D+ performance for me. I let a press row fan's clapping get to my head. Didn't keep my composure. Crumbled when asked to rank the first half against all other halves. Failed to see certain fouls without access to replay. And then I left right at the horn because, for whatever reason, I felt a little safer in my hotel room.
Overall this one feels like the "How To Beat Illinois" seminar is set up and ready to go now. Baylor did it. Michigan State did it. Get physical with us and we're going to get frustrated. Stay right up in our face and we struggle to find a counterpunch. Our focus now must be "how do we win that kind of game?". We've shown we can win slower pace games and we've shown we can get out and run. Can we win a boxing match? Specifically, can we win a boxing match without letting our opponent get under our skin? That's the piece this team must prove before the Tournament.
Ha - I just looked out the window and the very first hints of the sun coming up are now showing. I need to drive back to Champaign tomorrow (today) so I should probably go to bed. How did the last leg of this trip go? For both Illini basketball and Robert the Covid-fearing blogger?
Not our night.