The OP Stat of the Game: Demontez Stitt, 18 pts, 8-11 FG, 6 assists, 2 TO, 4 steals
Our FT% nearly killed us tonight. But their ineptitude to get a shot off in the end saved us.
Stitt moved his game forward tonight. This win, and his leadership in it, should be a big confidence booster for the sophomore, despite the missed FT in the end.
All game, I waited for someone else to step up: TO, Grant, DP, Young, "Gentle Ginger" Smith?
The Illini exposed our press fairly regularly tonight. Mike Davis was able to score 28 points and Demetri McCamey had 20. Their guards were able to pass over the top and around our press. Had their big men been able to keep up, they would have had the win. And while their 3p% was as abysmal as ours, they seemed to hit them at the emotional precipices- shooting us down each time.
The Tigers responded with 56 points in the paint. Many coming in the second half. They destroyed us on the glass, 35-23. Painful. However, to go along with our points in the paint, we converted at a much higher percentage in the second half. I couldn't believe the game was going to come down to FT in the end, again. This wasn't going to be about what could have been with the FT, but what actually happened. Not to take away from what the Tigers accomplished tonight and in the second half, but, The Illini, though, choked- hard.
Their "Orange Crush" failed them. They tried all they could throughout the game- calling air-ball everytime TO had the ball and even telling Ray "Tiny Wine" Sykes to "Cut Your Hair." Please. This is a Tiger team who has had to deal with the hostile environment of Cameron Indoor and their oh-so-clever-rehearsed chants. The Illini adhoc chants were no match.
Still, the Tigers were lucky to escape with the win tonight. We were tired at the end. It showed at little. And while we represented the ACC nicely tonight, we still have work to do. Weakside defense was slow to arrive on many drives. Booker, though he nearly achieved a double-double, he needs to be more assertive around the rim. Many of the touch shots he missed, he could have finished with more authority.
And again, I was impressed not only with Sykes and his ability to convert on his offensive possessions. Potter was spotty in his performance, but hit when the shots when they counted in the end. Our defensive pressure kept us in this game and won it for us.
This is a Big Win. Illinois is a serious basketball school and we took it to them, moving to 8-0, in their building.