2021 BTT VIII: Winning Time
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
I'm the nervous type. A worrier. You do not want me as your pilot of your chef. Your airplane would never take off and your meal would never be served. "But are we SURE?" rules my life.
As a result, I'm not a very good fan. I'm always convinced the lead is going away. I never believe we're coming back. I just default to that and then work my way back up the chain.
So with about eight minutes left, I got up to pace. We were leading by nine at the time, and in control nearly the entire game, but I had to pace. This one meant a lot to me. 2-0 this year against Iowa after all the happened last year and all the talk this summer - 2-0 would make me so happy.
It's Covid, so pacing is a problem. I was courtside last night but upstairs in the football pressbox today. We're pressboxing in the age of Covid, so I can't just get up and pace back and forth behind the other reporters. BUT, the overflow pressbox at the other end was empty, so I can go pace down there. I can't really see from there, but I can't really see from here.
I shut my laptop and head down there. I watch some of the game (there's about six minutes left I think?), pacing back and forth with no one around me. And then I start to get... lightheaded? I realize what's happening. I, uh, I sometimes get so wrapped up in ILLINI that I forget to drink anything.
I can absolutely tell that I'm dehydrated. I had coffee in the morning, half a soda after that, and I think that's it? And the night before I sat up writing and I don't think I drank anything. Yes, you idiot, the human body needs water to survive.
I go to grab some water from the cooler. Empty. They must have realized that no one was going to use the north pressbox today. So now I need to go get a bottle from the other fridge. I watched a little more of the game, then headed to the other end. I walked past a water cooler, and I considered just grabbing some water there, but I needed a couple bottles to go straight into my arm.
I get back to the south pressbox, grab two bottles of water, and decide to film the walk for you so you can see just how far it is from the south pressbox to the north pressbox. A few things to note in this video:
- Watching it, I feel like I walk extremely slow. Must be my short legs.
- I'm wearing my Air Pods at this time, so the sound is recording through those. If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like for me to breathe through my mask, well, sound up.
- When I turn the fourth corner I see some people in the north pressbox. Watch as I test my phone to see if there's some way I can fake like I'm watching something on my phone and not recording as I walk. Then, 15 seconds later, when I pass them, I totally pull the "nothing to see here, I'm not filming you, just watching something on my phone as I walk".
- You can hear Gene Honda's voice at one point. The PA is also broadcast in the pressbox. That's the only way I know what's happening in the game at that moment. When he says "3-point basket, Jordan Bohannon", I now know it's a 5-point game. Which means...
- As I arrive at my pacing spot and film the court - even though you can barely see it (I mean, I could barely see it), that's when Belo makes the steal, dives for the ball, and somehow bounce-passes to Ayo (how do you bounce a pass from the floor?).
Here's my walk from my computer to the north pressbox pacing spot:
What a time to arrive, right? I hear the announcement of the Bohannon three, my worry-filled mind is all "please no please no", I turn the corner, and I see Belo dive on the floor.
I quickly drank both bottles of water and watched the rest of the game from there. Right after that Ayo dunk was the timeout, 10 seconds of game play, timeout situation. Iowa cut it to five with the Bohannon free throws coming out of the timeout and then Kofi scored twice and we put the game away.
And it was that part of the game I was most curious about. I loved that play from Belo and the dunk from Ayo while Garza, afraid of his fifth foul, simply conceded the points. But still, those Bohannon free throws cut it to five again, and there was time on the clock, and I'm a worrier. Last year, at home against Iowa, we let a 15-point lead slip away and needed Kofi to block Garza with one second remaining to win. This lead was now down to five, and I was nervous.
But the team wasn't. And that's where I'm headed here. The team was perfectly calm. According to Kofi, it was "winning time".
I first asked Kofi about that timeout with 2:45 left:
Love that. Winning time. Here I am, pacing and dehydrated, and they're deciding that it's winning time.
I also asked Brad Underwood the same question. Take me through that timeout and your team's response. Wait, I ask that question in this video. Why am I typing it out?
"That's the belief this team has."
And that's the belief I do not have. I'm so fascinated by resolve in a moment like that. The people who will take the heat if it falls apart are relaxed. The person who just has to write about it is pacing from pressbox to pressbox.
I mean, just look at the list of plays after that timeout. Here's every scoring attempt in the next minute-and-a-half until Da'Monte's two free throws with 59 seconds left put the game away:
You know what's worth noting there (and don't get mad). "The Closer" missed two shots. Which is fine! Because Kofi grabbed the rebound on the first one and then Trent blocked a three pointer at the other end. Ayo has hit more last-two-minutes shots than nearly any Illini player in history. Here, he missed two (no big deal!) and his teammates picked him up. Massive dunk by Kofi, massive block by Trent, massive rebound by Da'Monte. Ballgame.
Winning time. Didn't even need The Closer.
What does this all mean? Well, it means the focus of my next three hours will be trying to figure out if we're the #3 overall seed or the #2. And whether the result of tomorrow's game has anything to do with that (it likely doesn't). Here's the math that I tweeted both before and after the game:
Updating this:— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) March 13, 2021
Quad 1: Michigan 8-4, Illinois 12-5 and will either finish 12-6 or 13-5.
Q1 + Q2 wins: Michigan 15, Illinois will end up with either 17 or 18.
Head-to-head: Illinois 76, Michigan 53 at Michigan.
Definitely have passed Michigan. Maybe pass Baylor too? #2 overall?
The biggest thing about those numbers, I think: Yes, Michigan missed three games due to Covid, but the three that were canceled would have been a Quad 1 game and two Quad 2 games. So it's not like they could claim "we only have 8 Quad 1 wins because our games were canceled. Michigan chose a non-conference schedule with zero Quad 1 games, one Quad 2 game, and the rest Quad 3 and Quad 4 (they did have one non-conference game canceled due to Covid, but it was a Quad 2 matchup with NC State). Illinois chose a non-conference schedule with three Quad 1 games (Baylor neutral, at Duke, at Missouri). Michigan played 12 Quad 1 games (8-4), Illinois won 12 Quad 1 games (12-5, possibly 13-5 after tomorrow), so we've clearly cleared Michigan.
So my next few hours will be spent wondering if we can clear Baylor and be the #2 overall seed. Does it matter? No! Will I still do it? Yes!
Why? Because it's March. And March is winning time.
Drink plenty of water, kids.