It will be interesting in the next few weeks to look back and see just how important Tuesday night’s 71-51 victory at Nebraska was for the Illini.

The competition is so brutal coming up that it might not matter at all. Or it might a difference-maker in the season.

Either way, going in Tuesday’s game felt like it carried “must-win” importance for an Illini team that had lost three straight and lost a good deal of its fans’ optimism, too. This was one of those games that measures whether or not you have a fire burning and after the players-only meeting, it was going to say something about this team’s leadership.

Well, hang a gold star on D.J. Richardson for playing what I would easily call the best game of his Illini career. Not only did he score a career-best 30 points, I thought he set the tone on defense and really helped Illinois take it to the Huskers. It was a fantastic overall performance.

And it wasn’t Illinois’ only noteworthy performance.

Sam McLaurin helped Illinois get off to a fast start and was aggressive on the glass. It might have been McLaurin’s best game, too.

Nnanna Egwu had a career-high 10 rebounds, the first double-digit rebounding effort by an Illini this season.

Joseph Bertrand was all-around effective with seven points, eight rebounds and five steals. He’s such an important part of the team because he brings athleticism and scoring potential off the bench.

Brandon Paul did not shoot the ball well (0 of 6 from 3), but still finished with 14 points.

It was good to see Illinois do most of the things coach John Groce urged them to do since the loss to Northwestern.

“We were really active on the glass, especially in the first half,” Groce said. “I thought our rebounding, our effort overall, our

communication and our execution was better. Richardson was terrific at both ends of the floor.

“D.J. also had to chase (Nebraska guard) Ray Gallegos all night and he didn’t let him get anything easy (Gallegos was 2-for-8 and scored 5 points).

“I thought it was as good a performance as we’ve had all year because it was both ends of the floor and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

OK, it was Nebraska. But Illinois got pounded at Nebraska last year. And Nebraska if finally getting healthy and is coming off a road win at Penn State.

I’m not saying this was Indiana or Michigan, I’m just saying that winning at Nebraska was definitely not a given.

But now comes a red carpet parade of Big Ten firepower.

The schedule really gets difficult starting with a 5 p.m. home game Sunday against Michigan.

“Our effort on the defensive end was probably as good as we’ve had over 40 minutes,” Groce said. “Now we have to do it over and over and over and over again. That’s where we are.”

Nebraska only managed 14 baskets for the game. Michigan can get that many in a half. That’s a very different team. But at least Illinois showed it can deliver that kind of performance from the very beginning, and that was lacking badly in the last two games.

On Tuesday Illinois was up 15-4 less than eight minutes into the game and that was a significant change after failing to hold the lead for any moment of the last 2½ games.

Bottom line: Illinois delivered a strong response when it was needed most, led by Richardson’s inspirational performance and a nice variety of help from his teammates.

Now, buckle up for a 5-game stretch that includes Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. The Michigan State and Minnesota games are on the road.

To be successful in that stretch, it will take Tuesday’s defensive commitment and rebounding tenacity, plus improved shooting.

It’s going to be one heck of a test.

(12) comments

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Tip of the hat to DJ. Looked like he was having fun out there. This teams goes long stretches of minutes without an assist. Glad I am am not Brandon Paul, and have to sit in the film room and watch the "fatman" strip the basketball from himon one of his "hope and and a prayer" drives. Grif had good shots, good form, frustrating. Hope we can get good passing, good shots, and get the 3 point shooting percentage back up, keep the confidence level up, as we head into these next stretch of games.. crk

Shark

I hate to say it but the absence of Tracy Abrams may have made a positive difference. Illinois is 301st in division 1 BB in assists, and 172nd in field goal percentage, something that should explain that we are not in a shooting slump, we play a lot of 1-on-1 ball. BP really does this a lot and Abrams hasn't been able to run this offense to create open shots for teammates. We are 170th in rebounding. For BP to be effective he needs to be dished the ball in an offense where some kind of advantage exists. When he breaks down a defense he too needs to see the help and dish to the open guy. He did that once last night to an open player under the basket for an easy lay-in.
Last night we rebounded better, but Tupps, no mention of our lack of offense and poor numbers of assists? All the one on one ball? I think Groce asked for more movement and I saw some in stretches, but this team falls right back into selfish play.

Think about this, DJ doesn't bring the ball up the court or run the offense, yet scores 30, so they were definitely getting him the ball in positions to shoot. Thank goodness they knew enough to feed the heat. I hope Abrams can learn to break down a defense and dish. Honestly he's 1/2 way there.

Mikeydamouth
Mikeydamouth

Bout time. Michigan coming to town, is there any way we can win this game? I had my doubts about winning last nights game.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Agree with the Shark. Unless we go crazy from behind the line, we will be hard pressed to win these games without more assists. I counted 4 or 5 consecutive times down the course where someone was playing 1 on 1 basketball. Bertrand drove and kicked out to Griffey who made the shot. Need to see a lot more of that. We need to play as a team to be competitive, not sure this group has it in them, but I think it can be done. crk

Red in a blue state

Three observations from last night. 1- If we didn't beat that team we might as well put a for sale sign on the assembly hall and call it quits. 2- Eddie Johnson sure doesn't lack for sel esteem does he? 3- I wish there were more teams like Nebraska in the conference. Oh and one more. The schedual coming up is brutal somebody up there must not like us.

Basketball Jones
Basketball Jones

I said after the Chicago game that Abrams play might come back to haunt us. It looks to me now that he and Paul are both trying to force there way to 20 pts. a game. One thing to keep in mind as we head forward, we had a career game from DJ, and Sams best game, and it took them both to beat a bad Nebraska team. I think I would rather see us win that game like we did, and had a bad game. Was this game, a game pitting the 2 worse teams in the league? Nebraska the worst talent team, and Illinois the worst mental team? I would really like to see Groce not start Abrams for a few games, to try to drive home the point to him, that this is a TEAM game.

VA JACK

Sure it was the Huskers,but you have to start somewhere.Rebounds and DJ the key to a much needed win,just do not look to close at the box score.Maybe its like the Flu,DJ could spread that "shooting eye flu "around to the others.The Illin are going to need it in the very near future at home.I might believe the next 7 games would be on the Plus side,if only Big Blue would feel the Paign.Its going to take more than DJ to carry the load on the next 7,just let them feel the Paign.

Rosco
Rosco

Hello friends. What no comments about the officiating? That had to be the worst group I've seen in a long time on both sides. Just atrocious calls.

Face it, we just don't have smart BB IQ players. TA hopefully is learning he can't treat ever team the same, i.e. drive aggressively for a layin. He needs to have option B and C ready in his mind if A doesn't work out. That goes for BP and JB as well. No alternative plan.

After causing a turn over. How many times have we turned it right back over because of making poor decisions? Even though we did get a couple of layins, I was still cringing the whole time. Make a steal, great, secure the ball, lok up and if you don't see a team mate in the clear...WAIT..and run the offense.

Is TG ever going to make another 3pt shot? Part of the reason our assists are enemic is no one is making shots after the pass.

It is fun when you are playing hard and making shots. Good for Shaw burning the net on that 3.

Eddie Johnson had lots of good analysis. He had to be scratching his head with some of the bone headed plays.

My expectations are minimal for this next stretch of games. Play hard, give effort on D, rebound with toughness, take care of the ball.

peace brothers

VA JACK

I'm not the most bright bulb on this here Blog,but my question in my mind is,of the next 7 games.How many teams will have two 8 minute periods,for a total of 16 minutes plus where a single basket was not scored? That must be a record of some kind,even for the BTen.Good "D"?? or bad "O"??

Red in a blue state

I wish something could be done differently with regards to the charging and or blocking foul call. The call on DJ last night was a joke. DJ went straight up not into the defender at all. A total acting job. I see it so often, the flop. Worst call in basketball period. I don't think a foul should be called on the defender either if the shot is made. No harm no foul.

Denis Lougeay

To say that those refs suck would be giving them credit they do not deserve. I never try to learn a ref's name, but that skinny little puke with the grey hair and no chin is the worst ever. But at least he is consistent game after game. He is ALWAYS horrible.

sugmeister

couldn't post at all yesterday until I cleared my cookies and cache. glad to see the team bounce back on the road even though Nebraska is not very good.

I really like coach groce but I tend to disagree with him when he stated that it hasn't been an effort problem; it has been an execution problem. we haven't executed well either but to me it really has been about a lack of effort on several guys parts. I think he is covering for them. a coach can say we didn't execute well and get by with that because everybody can see its true. but if a coach says we're just not trying and not putting out the effort, that is construed as throwing them under the bus.

if we had put out the effort Tues like we did vs NW and WI we wouldn't have even gotten to half the loose balls we did nor would we have gotten a lot of those 50/50 rebounds. and a lot of good defense is all about effort as well.

gosh I hate to see TG struggle like this. I watched a show late last night on Fox Sports Midwest called Fighting Illini Insider. had some nice clips of the team in the locker room after the Auburn game and the OSU game. good insights there. I will be looking for that show again in the future.

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