Tale Of Two Cities XII: The Hangover
Editor's Note: This is a Tyler article. But I'm publishing it under my byline. Because for some reason, comments aren't allowed on Tyler articles right now.
Craig can't publish... Tyler's articles aren't allowing comments... we've pretty much reached the "pets heads falling off" stage of IlliniBoard.
Here's Tyler's article:
There was just something missing this afternoon. Don't get me wrong, that was an extremely high level basketball game between two teams who appear to have Final Foul pedigrees. The Illini crowd was certainly there in number, but maybe not fully in spirit. Despite having a distinct numbers advantage once again, the game itself never allowed the Illini crowd to regain the fever pitch it reached on Friday against UCLA.
I mean it made total sense. Friday was a night time affair after a day of Las Vegas level pre-gaming. The Illini fans in T-Mobile Arena were well-oiled and ready to party.
Today was a noon local time tip-off. The crowd in attendance was more bleary-eyed than ballistic. The energy just wasn't in the building. This is not me crowd shaming mind you - Illini Nation owned this weekend - it's just maybe we were a little...hungover.
Plus the opponent was Virginia. The Slowski Tortoises of college basketball. A game against Virginia did not lend itself to a rock and roll afternoon. They don't ugly the game up mind you - they just slow it down.
You think you have them scrambling at the end of a possession, but then you realize too late that they lulled you to sleep. They work the clock with surgical precision to find an open three or layup as the shot clock expires.
They used our "switch everything" defense to their advantage on many possessions - just continuing to patiently run screens and move the ball until they would isolate a big in the post against one of our smaller defenders or get Kihei Clark matched against one of our wings on the perimeter. Those mismatches led to plenty of open shots and most importantly - a sizable foul disparity. 32-9 to be exact.
In the big picture this was pretty much the difference in the game. We held their three point shooting in check and limited our turnovers for the most part, but could not overcome a 25-4 scoring deficit at the foul line. It takes maximum discipline to defend Virginia - discipline that this young team does not yet possess.
That was made extremely evident in the last 3:42 of game time. We had just taken a 57-56 lead, and I tweeted this...
This one is going the distance. 57-56 #Illini with 3:42 left. So. Much. Fun.— Tyler Cottingham (@TylerCott) November 20, 2022
In retrospect - it wasn't all that much fun. Our next eight possessions went:
- Made 1 of 2 free throws
- Missed layup - offensive rebound - missed shot
- Missed layup
- Missed layup
- Missed layup
Meanwhile, Virginia was getting everything they wanted and scored 12 straight until Skyy Clark threw in a three with just 13 seconds remaining. And that was it - a 70-61 final.
Obviously Terrence Shannon, Jr. struggled today. Virginia's team defense was clearly keyed to stop his slash and destroy missions to the rim and his three ball wasn't falling enough to offset that. He finished with more turnovers than foul shots.
But I worry not about TSJ, it's more about the supporting cast.
In the post-game press conference, Brad Underwood framed his answers to almost every question around what he and his team could learn from this game. One of those things on his list is to find other go-to options late in games if TSJ is being held in check. Jayden Epps, Dain Dainja, and Coleman Hawkins each had opportunities down the stretch in this one, but were unable to deliver.
A game against Virginia was always going to be a battle of tempo. I probably need a Vegas analogy here. We want to keep chasing our bets on the blackjack table while they are content playing $1 keno in the 24 hour diner.
It's pretty simple - either you dictate the tempo against the Cavaliers, or you lose.
They just kept doing Virginia things down the stretch, and eventually imposed their will and taught us a lesson in late game composure and execution.
Again - lessons to be learned.
As my non-Illini friends with me on this trip have accurately noted in their interactions our fandom, we are a pretty fatalistic bunch. I mean, yes, but it's certainly well-earned. We've built up a lot of scar tissue. And after Saturday's gut punch in Ann Arbor, it would make all the sense in the world to view Sunday's outcome through a pessimistic lens.
One person who did not take that view was Brad Underwood. I've not often seen him as upbeat after a loss as he was in the post-game press conference. He stopped short of saying he was happy, but seemed very content to take a big picture view of this game and value the learning opportunities gained more than to fret over today's outcome. To wit, when asked in the post game what he learned most from this game (and this weekend): "Yeah, we're pretty damn good."
After all, when you're leaving Las Vegas, there's nothing wrong with breaking even.