John Groce described the Illini 81-79 victory over Auburn at the United Center as "grimy". And I thought it was a pretty good description. The Illini did not shoot well from 3-point territory for the 4th straight game (4-15). They missed 13 freethrows. They failed to deliver a knockout punch in the second half to a better than advertised 5-6 SEC team.
"Grimy" as it was...the Illini picked up an important win. Groce knew that his team could ill-afford a 2 game losing streak going into conference play at Purdue's Mackey Arena on Wednesday night. For one thing....even though the Boilermakers have not played this season at the level that Matt Painter would like (6-6)....they are always very difficult to beat in what I think is the loudest arena in the Big Ten Conference. Plus they still play really sticky defense. Plus they have won 7 straight against the Illini. Throw in the fact that highly-ranked Big Ten foes Ohio State and Minnesota (combined record of 22-3 so far) are the first two visitors to the Assembly Hall in early January....and you can see the importance of the win over Auburn and staying away from a losing streak of any length.
Chicago product Tracy Abrams had the game of his young career against Auburn with 27 points and 8 rebounds (both career highs) and added 5 assists and 4 steals...and only 1 turnover in a team-leading 35 minutes played. The Illini needed his offense...because normally-reliable scorers D.J Richardson and Brandon Paul combined to shoot 5-19 from the field and 1-9 from 3-point territory. The Illini defense allowed Auburn to shoot 53 percent in the first half....but settled down to hold the Tigers to only 6 points in the first 9 minutes of the second half. Even with that stretch of defensive success....Illinois saw the Tigers rally late and Auburn actually had a chance to take the lead in the final few minutes.
If Groce thought the game was "grimy" (he says that normally means a game played in the 40 or 50 point scoring range)....the 18,000 plus at the United Center didnt seem to mind. The orange-clad crowd seemed to be into the game from the beginning and Coach Groce thought the fans certainly were a factor at key points in the second half.
All in all...a good way to close out the calendar year 2012.
In this case...."grimy" is good.