Last year was all about a typo in an open thread. Someone mentioned that we were excersizing (sic) demons all over the Big Ten. It became a running game to warm up imaginary treadmills everytime another demon went down. Wins in Bloomington, East Lansing, Columbus, and our first regular season conference title in 14 years were all examples of that.
This year we have new demons that have been a little harder to slay. We hadn't beaten a top 50 team on the road (though Valparaiso moved to 49 in the latest RPI), and we hadn't won a game after trailing at halftime. That said, we can warm up the treadmill again.
This game was a sweet, sweet win where Purdue took control and owned the second half like they did for much of last year. For the first time we displayed a killer instinct we have been lacking. That culminated in E`Twaun Moore turning into The Assassin we have needed him to be. With 1:02 left and the Fighting Illini desperate for a stop down six, Moore worked the clock down and absolutely buried an 18-footer that was so demoralizing for the home crowd all you could hear in the arena was the ball going through the net.
People started gathering their coats and heading for the exits at that point. Smooge had ended the game with 14 second half points to announce that he is indeed still one of the best in the Big Ten. In person, it was a sweet shot to watch as I was right on line with the basket and the small Purdue contingent to my right going nuts after he splashed it.
Positives from the first Illinois game:
The Illinois athletic department - Once again, a big thank you goes out to Joe Kutsunis, Hail to the Orange, and the Illinois athletic department for today's credential. A great job all around.
JaJuan Johnson - JJ turned Mike Tisdale into a defensive liability and only Mike Davis had a prayer of stopping him. It is amazing to see up close how much abuse JJ takes when he goes to the basket. He had a few bad rolls early, but he delivered probably the dunk of his career in the second half with his 18 foot driving one-handed dunk with malicious prejudice. JJ played like a man today. Like a Big Ten Player of the Year.
Lewis Jackson - Coach Painter focused on LewJack's decision making now. He thinks that it finally matches his quickness, and it is really showing on the court with his recent games. 10 points and five boards makes him an offensive threat for the rest of the season.
Terone Johnson and Kelsey Barlow - Coach Painter lauded them for their defense, but offensively they were effective as well. Barlow was rebounding like a man possessed. I knew he had that type of effort in him and if he continues to do it he will be a huge asset. Few people can match his first step on the drive too. As for TJ, the two threes he hit were probably the biggest shots of his career so far. He is turning a corner at the right time of season. Both of these guys were fighters that gave us second chance points too. Their 18 points seemed bigger because almost every basket was a big basket that either gave us or continued our momentum. TJ's second three was the last time Illinois had it within one possession. We would lead by at least four the rest of the way.
D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith - These two are examples of not how much you score, but when you score. They combined for three devastating three-pointers that killed Illinois runs. Ryno had multiple good looks but missed. I am fine with him shooting those after that earlier stretch this year. As for D.J., it appears he is a little banged up with a hip pointer, but he seems to hit at least one big shot per game. Do I hear a nickname of Big Shot Byrd in his future?
Rebounding - We outrebounded a bigger team on their home floor 28-11 in the second half. Read that line again. Folks, that is all about positioning, effort, and (in reality) very poor shooting by Illinois. This was your difference in the game, as we executed team rebounding. GDB absolutely needs to board like that the rest of the year. In fact, EVERYONE needs to rebound like that the rest of the year. We finished the game with 16 offensive rebounds, often tough ones in traffic too. Byrd had three offensive boards before he got hurt.
E`Twaun Moore - I had to save the best for last, but Smooge finally gave us the performance we were expecting. He's not all the way back yet, but he drove with the intent to get to the line and picked his shots better. Smooge has to be that guy wanting to take the dagger shot like he was today.
Negatives from the first Illinois game
Turnovers - We had 12, but most of these had to be in the first half, therefore it is a minor negative. When you score 81 on the road against an NCAA Tournament caliber team there is little to worry about.
Bruce Webber - I think he really botched this game. Brandon Paul was working early, but he only went to Tisdale on the low block once. It resulted in a basket and a foul very late, but you would think he would have tried this earlier when it was obvious we weren't going to play Patrick Bade and Sandi Marcius anymore.
Demetri McCamey - Did he play today? I'm not sure.
The Orange Krush - Taunting Robbie Hummel is weak sauce. So is sitting down at timeouts.
Finally, we have a good road win, so now it is time to lock up a good NCAA Tournament seed by defending our home court. We have no chance of winning the Big Ten unless we take the next two against Wisconsin and Ohio State. Wisconsin is important because we need to finish ahead of them in the Big Ten in order to get a protected seed in Chicago. Ohio State is important because it could get us back in the Big Ten race. If we get both I have a hard time seeing us getting worse than a three seed.
There are demons to exercise here too. Keaton Nankivil is a beast at Mackey Arena while Jordan Taylor is playing fantastic basketball. Jared Sullinger is a huge demon that dominates like no other. We have confidence now. Let's keep it going.