Tate: Home's not cookin' for Illini

Tate: Home's not cookin' for Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Eastern experts aren’t the only ones wondering whether Illinois’ No. 10 ranking is valid ... whether the three-point shooting will hold up ... whether the lack of an inside game will prove costly.

Norfolk State also took some convincing Tuesday night.

A .500 team (6-6), the Spartans clung within 54-51 in the last two minutes before John Groce’s 11-0 Illini — surviving despite shoddy free throw shooting — salted away a 64-54 triumph.

For a team that has excelled on the road, the Illini were shaky again in the home Assembly Hall. They struggled from the arc (6 of 23), shot 35 percent from the field and missed 11 charities, most of them late.

Counting the overtime win at Hawaii, Illinois stands 5-0 in contests that were tossups in the last five minutes, four of them at home against Gardner-Webb, Western Carolina, Georgia Tech and Norfolk State.

“It is perplexing,” Groce said. “I thought we were ready. We’re trying to reach a level of consistency, and that wasn’t the case tonight. When we’re not tough and together, anything can happen.”

Empty seats
The UI crowd topped 14,000 for the third time in six games but still hasn’t caught fire.

Looking back, there was a multi-year stretch beginning in 2001 when Illini Nation, as a basketball fan base, could look Indiana and Kentucky in the eye.

Well, almost.

Those cage-crazy rivals jumped off the cliff a long time ago. They actually sell out for intrasquad games. Just this season, with Indiana fielding a top-rated team, hundreds of disappointed fans were turned away from Hoosier Hysteria, the IU’s version of Midnight Madness at the 17,472-seat Hall.

If Illinoisans don’t grab the 2,000 tickets currently remaining for IU on Feb. 7 (the only game between the two), look for the nearby Hoosiers to pick them up.

“We’d like to keep the red out of our building,” ticket manager Jason Heggemeyer said. “We have some good momentum going. We sold 1,500 tickets in the first 24 hours this week for our January special (three games for $49).”

It’s a tough pull after so many fans fell off the bandwagon last season. But there is history to indicate they’ll be back.

Bill Self’s three Illini teams sold out at 16,000-plus in 28 of 40 home games, and Bruce Weber’s gang climbed to No. 1 by routing Wake Forest 91-73 on Dec. 1, 2004 ... and kicked off a wild stretch of 60 consecutive sellouts, mostly at the 16,618 figure.

This streak ended in the final home game of the 2008 season, the fans by then disillusioned by a 5-13 Big Ten season.

It hasn’t been the same in the four years since, the lone sellout last season coming on a January Sunday against Wisconsin.

(Mid)major concern
It is difficult to comprehend these narrow wins against midmajor opponents.

Brandon Paul, deemed by basketball writers as the National Player of the Week for his outburst at Gonzaga, had a mediocre 3-for-10 night from the field as the Spartans nullified his driving attempts. He led with 14 points and eight rebounds but was no factor late.

D.J. Richardson produced in the clutch despite being flattened and spending lengthy moments lying on the court before halftime. Richardson suffered a shoulder bruise.

Shaking it off, Richardson racked seven straight Illini points in extending the lead from 49-47 to 56-51, and centers Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin stepped up to convert free throws when others were missing.

It amounts to another game to build on. And now comes Eastern Kentucky, unbeaten and showing a 68-44 rout of Norfolk State.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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illinibball1 wrote on December 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I'm glad finally someone is mentioning the empty seats that still plague the Assembly Hall.  It just goes to show how loyal some season ticket holders are.  What the television crews need to do is to have the camera angle focusing on the student floor section.  It's embarassing watching a Top 10 team with empty seats in the A-Section on national television or even those who are in those seats doing nothing but picking their nose and not cheering.  There's too many older people down there too.  Definitely a change is needed with seat selection.  The main student section should not be up in C-Section.  Move them down to A and then see how much of a change the crowd excitement can be.  Realistically I know it will never happen. On a positive note...GO ILLINI!    

bluehavana wrote on December 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

The empty seat phenomenon will probably only disappear when AH is remodeled.  Pretty much a case of golden rule...He who has the gold makes the rules.  Unless there are other donors to replace the no shows, I can't imagine why Mike Thomas would even address this issue for fear of alienating fans.  This, whether they attend or not.  Get the rennovation done and then tuck these folks into a cozy equivalent of today's lower B Section.

On the court, the undefeated record is really only a bonus number to me.  More importantly is that we have at least a decent record while playing an exciting brand of basketball.  The Illini have played a couple clunkers at home, sure.  But the scores were still a far cry from the 30's and 40's final scores we saw way too many times in recent years.

I think coach Groce will continue to build an exciting program in C-U.

helping wrote on December 12, 2012 at 7:12 pm

If you think that A section has too many empty seats, you should try looking up in the "main student section" in C.  You could throw live genades up there and not hurt a soul.  Other than the Orange Crush, the students haven't shown up at all so far.  The fat cats in A should be giving their tickets to co-workers, employees or as donations to the Boys-Girls Clubs, but the students aren't showing up either.

Amen wrote on December 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I was wondering just how many times the basketball team gets to practice in the AH.  If not a lot then the Hall becomes a nuetrual site and not a home court advantage. . The UI would do well to make one side of A Section a student section (remove the seating) standing room.  Season ticket holders should understand why the change and what it would mean to the BB program.   

illinigator wrote on December 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Before moving to Florida I used to go to 5 or 6 games.  The only seats I could get was in rows C20 or C22.  Those seats really sucked and that was why I didn't go to more games.  I would rather listen to the game or watch it on TV.  I was back home 2 years ago and took my son to a game.  I bought 2 tickets from a scelper for 120.00.  They were row 1 across the floor from the benches.  I had to watch the big screen because the students were in front of me and stood the whole game.  These are just a couple of things wrong with the out dated AH.  Tear it down and build something that the fans. college and players would be proud of.