CHAMPAIGN — As is his routine, Tyler Griffey was the first Illinois player on the Assembly Hall floor more than two hours before the start of Sunday’s game against Gardner-Webb, going through a shooting regimen.
The senior got up more than 100 shots from all over the court as manager Ryan Schmidt rebounded and fed him passes.
So, with Illinois trailing the visitors from the Big South 62-60 with less than 10 seconds to play, who better than Griffey to take the last shot?
The 6-foot-9 forward delivered with Illinois’ unblemished record on the line, draining an NBA-range three-pointer with 4.4 seconds remaining to throw 12,565 fans into a frenzy in delivering a 63-62 win.
“Griffey stepped up and did what upperclassmen do,” Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought he made some big plays in the second half.”
Griffey, one of four Illini to tie for team-high honors with 13 points, scored all of his in the second half for Illinois (7-0).
On the list of big shots he’s hit, Griffey said Sunday’s three is up there. The confidence can be traced to that pregame routine.
“Just grooving it, feeling my shot. I can almost tell, when I’m on I kind of just sit down and as guys filter in and let them warm up. It usually gets me prepared,” Griffey said. “Brandon (Paul) made a great read, great pass. I knew it was good as soon as I let it go.”
Sunday was about Griffey and the rest of his classmates. The younger guys — Tracy Abrams, Myke Henry, Nnanna Egwu, Devin Langford — didn’t play particularly well against Gardner-Webb (4-4). So Groce leaned on the old guys.
Fourth-year players Paul (six rebounds, four assists), D.J. Richardson and Joseph Bertrand (six rebounds, three assists) joined Griffey with 13 points. The heralded recruiting class from 2009 featuring those four players scored 34 of Illinois’ 39 points in the second half.
“Seniors die hard,” Groce said. “I thought they were playing well together, I liked their disposition.”
Groce is counting on everyone chipping in at Wednesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Georgia Tech.
“They’re great kids, so I’m confident we can learn from this one,” Groce said. “It’s the next game and if the way we played today in some areas of execution and some toughness areas, if our team doesn’t respond to that on Wednesday, I’ll be concerned.”