Tate: Finally, the Hall was jumpin' again

Tate: Finally, the Hall was jumpin' again

“How Do You Like Me Now?” — Country singer Toby Keith

You could smell this one coming all the way from Columbus, Ohio.

To be honest, the Ohio State Buckeyes have been overrated on the national scene. The current team has an All-American poised to turn pro (Deshaun Thomas), a quality playmaker shooting 36 percent (Aaron Craft) and a great multi-year reputation under Hoopeston’s Thad Matta.

The coach is striving to acquire offensive consistency from three positions and finds himself woefully shy at center.

The Buckeyes reached the Top 10 without beating a single quality team (eight midmajors), and all four traveling Ohio State media members emphasized early Saturday that this team in no way compares to last season. They were correct.

So despite arriving here with an 11-2 record, the Buckeyes found themselves overwhelmed in the UI’s revitalized House of Paign on Saturday afternoon, 74-55. And let’s be fair to the Illini: For 30 minutes, they competed at a level that would have dispatched anyone in the country.

Playing their first home game in 20 days, and backed into a corner by an opening Big Ten loss at Purdue, John Groce’s Illini took a San Francisco streetcar ride on the electricity cascading down from a packed C Section as they installed Bright Orange back into the Orange and Blue. If they had reached this level elsewhere, they hadn’t shown it at the Assembly Hall.

Home defense
What we witnessed was the most spectacular home showing since the Illini shocked the same Buckeyes 79-74 here last year, that team featuring irreplaceables Jared Sullinger and William Buford.

This was a blowout from the moment Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams hit their first two jumpers. It was 25-11 before the visitors knew what hit them, the Illini cashing two early treys and building the lead even as they embarked on an 0-for-10 streak of three-point tries. Illinois made 14 of 19 two-point shots in a sizzling first half. The crowd went particularly wild when Illinois made an 8-0 run featuring a Brandon Paul dunk on a lob from Abrams, that followed by driving goals by Abrams and Joe Bertrand at 25-11.

Attaining a mental zone they haven’t reached since Gonzaga, the hosts blocked eight Ohio State shots, were credited with eight steals and outrebounded the Buckeyes 40-30.

Yep, 40-30. Quite a change. Everybody chipped in as they swarmed the Buckeyes.

“We’re working on this,” Groce said. “We have to rebound by committee.”

The margin peaked at 56-31 before Illini ballhandling unraveled with a series of turnovers (12 in the second half), those mistakes offset by late treys that chilled Buckeye rally efforts.

Illinois still isn’t back to early-season three-point form, as 8 for 27 shows, but Ohio State was worse, cashing four long ones out of 19 tries. The Buckeyes shot 33 percent, slightly better than in the home loss to Kansas.

Center of attention
Referring back to Wednesday’s disappointment at Purdue, Groce was upbeat:

“We can’t get too low or too high. Today the guys responded. We showed more toughness and grit and passion, although we kicked it around in the second half and, after a good start on defense, we lost Thomas some.”

With inferences flying that defeating his mentor, Matta, meant more, Groce said: “Every Big Ten game counts one. You don’t get credit for two wins in one.”

Both coaches lauded Egwu for what stands as his best performance yet: 7-for-10 shooting, eight rebounds, no turnovers, sound defense.

“I was able to pop out on ball screens,” Egwu said. “We had good flow in our offense.”

Noted Matta: “Egwu can shoot and he kept hitting those 17-footers. We seem to bring out the best in Illinois.”

To which Groce stated: “Nnanna is getting more and more confident. He works hard and earns everything positive that happens to him.”

Egwu’s 16-point effort gave Illinois a fourth prong in its point production alongside Paul (19), Abrams (13) and Bertrand (12). The scoring balance was in sharp contrast to the Buckeyes who showed Thomas at 24 and no one else in double figures until Craft cashed three very late baskets to reach 11.

While D.J. Richardson closed with three treys, his 3-for-11 afternoon drew more questions about when he’ll break out of his extended slump.

Groce reacted strongly to the question, saying he’ll continue to encourage Richardson to shoot.

“D.J. defends and screens and dives on loose balls. Next question.”

This wasn’t a day to linger on shortcomings, not when Ohio State had won 11 of the previous 14. But, as yet, this isn’t the same Ohio State powerhouse we’ve become accustomed to.

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


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ike22 wrote on January 06, 2013 at 7:01 am

“D.J. defends and screens and dives on loose balls. Next question.”

Good to see coach defending his players.  Great team effort with good balance.  BP3 not trying to do too much and just letting the game come to him.  I'm amazed how much Nanna has progressed since last year.

Bear8287 wrote on January 06, 2013 at 12:01 pm

“D.J. defends and screens and dives on loose balls. Next question.”

Good to see coach defending his players.


You beat me to posting the same comment.  :-)

CecilColeman wrote on January 06, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Sure beats Weber blaming everything but the weather on McCamey!

aaeismacgychel wrote on January 06, 2013 at 1:01 pm

DJ Richardson had a great second half.  During that period when Illinois got extremely sloppy with the ball and OSU started making their push, DJ just took over to put an end to it.  He showed the Senior leadership that was desperately needed at that point in the game and he showed great energy and effort doing it.  I thought DJ was the player of the second half for Illinois if it wasn't Nnanna Egwu who had a phenomenal game.  Great seeing Nnanna have the game he did.  First game I've seen him all season going up and grabbing rebounds with both hands and being in phenomenal defensive position.  He dominated OSU on both sides of the court.  That's his second really good game in a row.  If this is a sign of things to come and he can keep getting more comfortable in his footwork and positioning in the paint, he will live up to that lofty potential that called him a very young Trevor Mbakwe.  He played like a full grown Mbakwe against OSU.  It will be very interesting to see how he plays against Minnesota's extremely physical frontcourt, and possibly the best frontcourt in the country.

blmillini wrote on January 06, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I hate when our media guys ask questions about a guy being cold.  Young kids have a hard enough time getting through the mental part on their own.  It can't help having the media adding to that pressure.  Aren't you supposed to be Illini media?  I understand being objective but do you really need to contribute to making it more difficult for our team to succeed?  This is especially true in football.  I just don't get it!!  Thanks coach Groce for keeping that positive vibe... it is so refreshing!

JDG613 wrote on January 06, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Keep in mind that 90+% of those guys writing the articles have never played the game, or if they did, never played it WELL, thus they turned to writing about it.  Too many writers seem to feel it necessary to point out what they think, in their own opinion, were mistakes or poor plays, instead of writing about the accomplishments and the reasons the team won the game.

Bottom line, this team is stepping forward at the encouragement and support of their coach.  That's the way it should be.

JimOATSfan wrote on January 06, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I think had the guys been able to make 50% of their shots in the Missouri game, it would have looked like this OSU win.  Great to see the Illini play 'smart' basketball, especially an inside out game with the post being fed so much, and so well.


lmaran wrote on January 06, 2013 at 3:01 pm

“I felt like when I laid my head down on my pillow after the game, I wanted to say, like I did after we got beat by Missouri … I laid my head down that night and I said ‘Those are my guys,’ ” said Groce, who spent eight seasons as an assistant to Ohio State coach Thad Matta at Xavier, Butler and Ohio State. “I just wanted to feel that way tonight, regardless of the score.”

Our coach said the above.


DaisyJ wrote on January 06, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Go back to the early wins, we ran the ball up the floor like we did today. We ran it up. Second, note that we saw Igwu post up, turn around and fade. We saw Bertrand drive and fake and fade. We saw kids perform a signature move they have insteade of dumping up a THREE BALL, A BORING THREE BALL. This has been what basketball is all along, except see how much fun it is to watch when you take the ball to the hole and try a move. Plus you actually are then in a postion to rebound the shot or have others crash the boards followng you to the basket or a rebound is easier because you have shot a closer shot and it is then a jumping contetst for the ball.

Now, time we dump Griffey..He is a big kid that takes bad shots, has NO SIGNATURE MOVES OR GAME TO HIS GAME, and is not a board crasher. Play Henry his minutes and you will see even more improvement. I think Groce is also figuring this out and sat him for it. He is too slow.

twiggy354 wrote on January 06, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Can we please just enjoy a win (vs a top ten team) without pointing out problems that need to be fixed?  We were expected to finish near the bottom of the big ten this year, but instead we are ranked in the top 15.  Stop bashing the college kids unless you were good enough to play D1 ball yourself (ever notice how Bardo and other former Illinois athletes tend to focus on positives?).  As fun as it is to insult student athletes it really is a lame/jealous way to spend your time.  So enjoy sitting on your couch looking for any negatives to point out to everyone else (they won't listen), and please just leave the comment section of this website alone.  You've bashed this team more than anyone else on this site over the last few years (at least), and now that they are having success you are still putting up posts like this^.  I understand you are trying your hardest to be positive, but you so elequently (seriously, learn some basic writing skills) come off as a moron who likes to insult 18-22 year olds.  I can also gaurantee you that these kids play/understand the game better than you ever have and will.


Seriously, this program has the wonderful chance of starting fresh with a young coach.  Do us all the favor and take your negative attitude that plagues our fan base over the border to Indiana, they will greet you with open arms.  

DaisyJ wrote on January 07, 2013 at 10:01 am

First, I am sure that you are proud to be called Twiggy. I told you I enjoyed the somewhat regular game of basketball, this is how it was played correctly for years. The three ball teaches you to take a bad shot and stand around. Tell me I am wrong. How did you like Egwu shooting a turn around fade. If you want to see a three ball shooting contest go watch a girls game. If you watch more closely you will find that kids do not even brake to the basket off ball because of fans like you that cheer for them when they stand at the three line with their tongues out, hands out, feet exactly behind the line, drooling for the ball when they have a clear lane to the basket.

Is this what you come to watch. Watch basketball before 1975 and see what a game is supposed to look like then report back. And, how about that Griffey kid, wasted his whole time playing 30 feet from the basket.

twiggy354 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Griffey is a pure shooter, Groce even says so himself.  That's why he plays behind the three point line.  He is in there to shoot threes because it is what he is best at.  You claim this makes him soft, but he is also one of the better hustle players on the team (gets rebounds {seriously, he does, watch the games more when he's on the floor}, dives for loose balls, etc.).  I would agree that he has slow feet on the defensive end, but so do a lot of role-playing shooters in the game of basketball, doesn't mean we have to point out every single time that they make a mistake.  I can bet you that no one is more aware of every one of his mistakes than Griffey is.  

Also I have watched the game before 1975.  In fact I'll do you one better and just point out the way that Bob Knight (you know, the man widely accepted as being one of the greatest coaches ever) played the game.  The man would get a lead and then sit on the ball for as long as possible since there was no shot clock to force any action.  In fact, before the shot clock this was the case with a lot of basketball teams.  Now I know you're a basketball purest who understands the game better than anyone, but that was some of the most boring, unwatchable basketball that has ever existed.  So before 1975 there was a lot of standing around, outside the lane, and passing the ball around until the other team took a risk and either stole it, or left a clear lane.  

And I am just as happy with my name being twiggy (seriously, its just a screen name) as I'm sure you are to be called Daisy.

DaisyJ wrote on January 08, 2013 at 11:01 am

Griffey is a sad example of a big kid that cannot play wing guard. He is occassionly successful if a play happens to happen near him.Henry can be more effective or even Langford than he is. He never took time to develop a signature move. Shooting a three is not a move, not a talent. Shooting is a given. The 3 is very close to the old set shot of the 30's.

I never said that going back to 1975 play meant get rid of the shot clock. You made that up. I am talking offensive skills that are no longer shown today. Stick to what I said, Griffey is a waste for his size.

twiggy354 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 12:01 pm

And it's not the fans fault when a team settles for threes, it usually has something to do with the coach realizing an asset to this team is their shooting abilities.  You notice how much he stressed shooting over the summer and how he spreads the floor with four shooters?  Also I am pretty sure Egwu settling for 17 footers (whether or not he fades away) is the same complaint you had for almost all previous Illini big men.  So I think it's safe to say you need to make up your mind.

DaisyJ wrote on January 08, 2013 at 10:01 am

My mind has been made up and stated the same over and over. Kids shoot the three because
they are unsure of any other skill moves. Over time, a kid develops a signature move or two., and uses that to score. It may be up and under, catch and shoot, fade, fake and fade, fake and stop quick and shoot. These are mostly gone today because of the media hype and the lack of one on one practice by the coaches. They are mostly gone. Period. And in place we see standing around, very little off ball cutting to the hole (hug the three line insteaed) and that is about as much fun to watch as paint drying. Would you likea 4 point shot even further out. NO.

Just because it is 2013 does not mean basketball has improved.

JohnWams wrote on January 07, 2013 at 2:01 am

Amen, twiggy! These kids read the blogs. Let's support them like fans should. The fan base contributed mightily to last year's collapse.

DaisyJ wrote on January 07, 2013 at 10:01 am

These kids are pretty lame if they cannot take what is said on here. What do they do when Groce chews their A$$ out with combination 4 letter words. AS for the fan base cheering, well. find , will cheer when they do the right thing.

tonyjb37 wrote on January 07, 2013 at 6:01 am
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Who needs football when you got this dominate basketball team to cheer for!!!    Go Illini!  Great Coach and Great Players!  Great Job!