Mark Tupper's blog

Illini cap memorable week with win at Minnesota

2013-02-10T20:17:00Z 2013-02-11T07:02:23Z Illini cap memorable week with win at MinnesotaMark Tupper
February 10, 2013 8:17 pm  • 

As weeks go, this has been one to bronze and slide neatly into the Illini basketball vault.

First a heart-stopping, come-from-behind 74-72 victory over No. 1 Indiana, complete with an almost unbelievable game-winning play that will ensure Tyler Griffey never pays for a meal the rest of his life as long as an Illini basketball fan is present (starting after his eligibility is complete, of course).

Then a come-from-behind victory at 18th-ranked Minnesota on Sunday, a 57-53 upset that included more Griffey heroics. But in this one, the shot of the game came off the unlikely hand of 6-1 Tracy Abrams, who used an isolation against 6-11, 260-pound Elliott Eliason to his advantage. With Illinois up 54-53, and the clock sliding inside of 20 seconds, Abrams moved Eliason backward, then danced back outside the 3-point line and fired a dagger that had to make Minnesota coach Tubby Smith weak in the knees.

Abrams’ 3-pointer with 18 seconds to play gave Illinois a 4-point lead.

And at the other end, it was Sam McLaurin who got a hand on Austin Hollins’ 3-pointer, deflecting a shot that Abrams gobbled up, all but securing a road victory that, combined with the Indiana upset, absolutely changes the feel of Illinois’ season.

Remember: On Jan. 27 Illinois embarked on a five-game stretch that was their “gauntlet,” in which four of the five were nationally ranked and the other was a Wisconsin team that could move into the Top 25 today (coming off Saturday’s upset of Michigan).

A lot of us said at the time that going 2-3 in that stretch would be terrific. But after losing the first three – to Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin – that looked unlikely. Especially when the next opponent, Indiana, was elevated to No. 1 in the country.

But the victory over Illinois and Indiana has improved Illinois’ record to 17-8 and 4-7. And there are still very winnable home games against Purdue (Wednesday), Penn State and Nebraska as well as road games at Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State.

Nothing is guaranteed. But suddenly all outcomes are possible again.

Illinois trailed Minnesota by 12 in the first half. But a 17-4 run to close the half, including D.J. Richardson’s difficult 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer, gave Illinois a 31-30 lead at intermission.

Minnesota could have been up much more than 12 because Illinois started the game with a flurry of missed shots and turnovers. Really, that was the Gophers’ fatal mistake – failing to put Illinois away when it had a chance in the first half.

Groce has said he felt his team was “coming on,” with improvements on offense coming before he cracked the whip on defense. And now he believes he’s seeing an overall improvement that stems from players finally getting some of his guiding principles.

“Guys made big plays,” Groce said after the Minnesota victory. “Guys have a really good spirit about them right now. There’s great toughness, great togetherness and they’re starting to trust the system better now.

“We can still get better. We have a couple days leading up to the Purdue game at home on Wednesday. We have kind of set the standard for how we want to play, with passion, togetherness and trust and we have to play like that Wednesday night.”

Griffey led Illinois with 16 points and the fact that he followed his big game against Indiana with a game in which he knocked down four more 3-pointers is an indication that maybe the shooting slump is a thing of the past. At least the freeze has thawed.

Groce said there was never a sense of panic, even when Illinois fell behind 13-2 to start the game or when the Minnesota lead grew to a dozen at 26-14 with less than five minutes to play in the first half.

“I just told them, ‘It’s a long game,’” Groce said. “Shoot, we were down 12 with five minutes to go against Indiana. We got smashed by Gonzaga to start that game. It’s a 40-minute game for a reason.

“One thing that’s happening now is that guys are not abandoning the system when we get hit in the mouth. They are sticking with what we practice. They’re getting more comfortable and I think it’s a big reason we’re getting better.”

Don’t be mis-led. There’s still much work to be done if Illinois is going to get into the NCAA Tournament. Beating Purdue at home Wednesday will be very difficult. Winning anywhere on the road is always hard.

But this week – with victories over No. 1 Indiana and No. 18 Minnesota – brings all possibilities back into play.

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(20) Comments

  1. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 13, 2013 7:04 pm

    Not Tal Brody, his life accomplishments sure speak well for the University.

    In 1963, still in my cavity prone years, there was one Big Ten game on a week "The Big Ten Game of the Week." The only alternative was listening to the Illini games on the radio. I remember listening in bed and yelling loudly when the shot was made. My old man took away my radio for a week. :) crk
  2. Tendonitis Tom
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    Tendonitis Tom - February 13, 2013 6:40 pm
    Gonna guess crk's answer is Tal Brody since his jersey is being raised tonight. Just read an excellent article on him. What a credit to the university.

    Rumor has it this scruffy 60-ish bearded dude sprints off a plane into a bar in the Denver airport last Thursday and politely demands the barkeep put on ESPN for the last 7 minutes or so of the televised game. Theoretically possible that some of the other patrons were a bit startled by the guy's primeval scream and fist pumping at game's end. Some people gotta learn to act their age.

    Shame on me for writing the season (i.e., the tourney) off not long ago, and congrats to the players, especially TG and DJ and SM, for the turnaround. And their coach, of course. Now accidently knock Byrd to the floor a couple times and destroy PU tonight. I'm thinking rout.
  3. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - February 13, 2013 12:37 pm
    BBJ - It wasn't Freeman. I didn't know who it was and had to look it up but I am not going to say who it is and steal crkcrk2's thunder.
  4. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - February 13, 2013 9:26 am
    We can't get into the big dance tourney without a must win keep up the momentum win tonight. I believe this Illini team can make same waves and bust a few brackets if they can get in. I so hope and pray we have a good finish, the IlliniNation needs this. I missed the last two games while being gone on vaycay so I hope I don't jinx em! We out grit Purdon't, we win!
  5. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 13, 2013 9:25 am
    VA Jack, I agree! crkcrk, Was it Don Freeman?
  6. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - February 13, 2013 8:15 am
    BBJONES,not sure I want to talk construction with a man that makes a living doing it daily,but I always liked hot water.I think we always had the concrete,the forms were badly put together and the mixture of the concrete ended up flakey.Not much on gain with past Purdue games,but I like what I saw with last two games.I do not think Purdue teams have faced as yet what Minny faced,Tonight,a new beginning,even though Purdue's freshmen are making strides.Ilini will showup with Groce at the helm.I can hardly wait,its about time we send the Boilers packing,its been a while.
  7. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 13, 2013 5:46 am
    Illini Trivai

    Who hit the 55 foot shot in 1963 to beat Northwestern at the buzzer???? crk
  8. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 12, 2013 9:27 pm
    VA Jack, The concrete may not be set yet, but for the first time in 5-6 years it looks like we have some concrete in place to look forward too.

  9. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - February 12, 2013 6:23 pm
    MIKEY,relax, enjoy a 71 --59 victory.By golly I think they have it.As PISTOL said,trust in the system.Also BB JONES said,there is actually an inbound play now.Just no money bets on the away games,concrete not set as yet to walk on.
  10. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 12, 2013 5:36 pm
    Mikey, I agree with you about the defense. I will add, defense is allot about hustle and desire. I am pretty sure that Groce taking automatic starting time away from some players has had a part in the renewed hustle on defense. sugmiester, your right about the putting together the roster. I never understood the thinking in the lack of point guards. It doesn't hurt to have as many as 3 of them to fight each other in practice for playing time, and you can use them together at times during the games. Dee, Deron, and Luther could all handle the point. That should of shown Weber something?? If I wanterd to start a team using big ten players, I would start with Trey Burke, then Craft, add Hardaway, then Deshawn Thomas, with Zeller at the 5. You have 2 very good guards, and both are point guards.
  11. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - February 12, 2013 4:53 pm
    I don't have the stats handy but the main reason we won the last 2 games is because of the defense.......especially during the last 5 minutes of the game. IU and Minny didn't hardly score any baskets at all during this phase of the game. Yes, we have shot better but we didn't really shoot any better than IU or Minny overall.........the opposing teams turning the ball over, and like I said, the last 5 minutes or so clamping down and not letting the other team score.
    We better not let DJ Byrd beat us again or I will have a stroke tomorrow night. GO ILLINI!
  12. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - February 12, 2013 1:56 pm
    wow.... not many comments following 2 big wins!

    agree bbj - groce has been much more willing to bench top players when they are showing a general lack of interest. I think weber should have been more quick to do that too, but he was too stubborn about many things.

    I agree pistol - something has got to give as far as the roster goes. I hate to see guys transfer but in reality I highly doubt groce would have brought in either shaw or langford or ibby. and considering henry is a pretty laid back guy from all reports I'm not sure he would have brought him in either. I could see more than 1 of those guys transferring. I consider ibby to be by far the least talented of the bunch but he just might be a "lifer" who is enjoying the big time atmosphere.

    every time I think about how weber put this roster together it irritates me. 1 PG in how many yrs? no true center on the team at all this yr.... can't blame weber for leonard going pro but our fall back plan is a power forward (who was known as a true project when we recruited him) trying to play center. idk.... it is just an amazing feat to fail so badly at a large program like illinois, especially coming off one of the best decades in the school's history. accomplishing that feat is what led to desperate moves like recruiting ibby and some others.
  13. Basketball Jones
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    Basketball Jones - February 12, 2013 9:13 am
    Pretty well agree with everyone, especially Pistol Pete when he says he doesn't want to see Maclaurin shooting very many three's! We have enough guys doing that. Be nice to have someone getting points around the basket. A win is what's important, but I sure would love to see a blowout win against Purdue. VA Jack, Your right, Groce made some nice adjustments. It is nice for me to see, after arguing with Brooks in here for years, a coach that not only has out-of-bounds plays that help us get the ball in bounds, but we actually score off some of these plays! How many times over the last few years, did we either did not get the ball inbounds in time, but threw it to the other team??? Looks like Weber finally had to play somebody, and on the road last night. Lets see now, I said that the starters should of had a seat on the bench to start the second half at Wisconsin. Over the last few games, Groce has not started certain players. How's the team looking now? I give Groce credit for doing this, I wish he would of done it a little sooner. Playing time is a sure way to get most players attention.
  14. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 12, 2013 8:01 am
    Va Jack - I agree about Groce doing a great job in the last 2 wins. He said after each game that the players were doing what the staff wanted them to do for 40 minutes. He said they're trusting the system again & getting better results. Sure, they're making more shots, but that could be attributed to playing within the flow of the offense & kicking it out to open shooters (sugmeisters words) like they did earlier in the season against Butler, Gonzaga, & OSU. We have the right coach for bball for sure. We need to really hammer PU on Wed.
    The Illini made an offer to 6' 4" Desmond Lee, the Juco PG/SG from NM. He also has offers from Baylor, NC St, Miami(Fl), Auburn, Ark, Creighton, UCen Fl, & UNLV. Also interested in him are Wash, Wash St, Butler, & Georgia. He said he won't make a decision until the end of the season. He shoots 46% from the field & averages 22ppg, 5rpg, & 2apg. Groce is trying to add immediate depth at PG for next year with no schollies to give, so, like I said before, something has to give.
  15. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - February 11, 2013 1:20 pm
    boy it is good to see TG hitting some shots again. and DJ too. the whole team looks better when some shots actually fall.

    having said that - it is a weird box score. we shoot over 45% from 3 but only 38% overall? MN had a reputation as not a great outside shooting team and they certainly lived up to that. I agree, crk - we most likely lose that game if Williams plays. fortunately I doubt the selection committee looks at that sidebar.

    very nice adjustments made at halftime. I'm sure weber would have done the same and probably more, but good to see groce muddling through.

    maybe shots are falling because we are getting back to what we did early in the year? several kick outs the last couple games to open shooters, getting 3 pt attempts within the flow of the offense, etc. first 10 mins were pretty brutal to watch though. and troubled again by BP standing and watching on defense while his guy gets back door cuts, etc.

    few things to tighten up but very glad we woke up and can still salvage the season
  16. VA JACK
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    VA JACK - February 11, 2013 9:28 am
    Players play the game and Grif ,Abrams or DJ had key moments.However,I was more impressed about the 40 minutes of masterful direction from a Coach.It was less than ten days ago some were posting the AD had made a huge mistake on hires with FB and BB programs.The movement of the players at key times was first started by a Coach that knows his players.Groce more than held his own against an experienced BTen Coach.It seems to me the AD might not be so dumb after all.A team of players that failed big time a year ago.Whats different? You guessed it,John Groce.Now watch how they more than win at home against Purdue,a Chess Master is in control.Great calls Coach,An "A" plus at Minny and IU at home !!!!! Go Illini,just think ten days ago I thought 17 wins was a stretch and now 20 ins is a stretch.
  17. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - February 11, 2013 8:25 am
    Nice road win after a slow start.
    Good to see Griff have back-to-back good games.
    Don't want to see McLaurin falling in love with shooting the 3.
    Big 3's by DJ.
    Big 3 by Abrams to ice it. Also loved it when he ripped a rebound away from Mbakwe. 5 points - 6 boards - 6 assists......nice.
  18. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - February 11, 2013 4:46 am
    Pretty clear Gophers are a different team without Rodney Williams. With Williams in the line up seems likely the the Gophers exploit the Illini's 'lame" play the first 10 minutes of the game, and put the game out of reach. Better defensive effort the the last two games. Take em anyway you can get em from here on out. crk
  19. season ticket holder
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    season ticket holder - February 10, 2013 11:25 pm
    Welcome back Griffey!! We need everyone possible at the Hall on Wednesday--especially you A section ticket holders
  20. Rosco
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    Rosco - February 10, 2013 8:37 pm
    What a week. Back to playing like earlier in the season. Helping on D and recovering when possible. Hitting shots helps a little :)

    Nice adjustments on Embobway phonetic spelling :)

    We absolutely must beat PU this week. Hope we watch that film a few times and see all they did was curl the lane for layups. Hammonds is probably better and we better bring some toughness.

    Going to the PU game and think I'll see us break their win streak against us.

    peace brothers
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