Loren Tate: Latest beatdown was even worse

Mother predicted there would be nights like this.

Commenting earlier, UI assistant basketball coach Jamall Walker said he was trying to forget last year’s 74-51 debacle at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, a romp that started 14-0 and went to 34-9 before John Groce’s Illini knew what hit them.

The Illini staff had another one to forget Wednesday night. Stop reading now if the description brings pain. This one was worse, the 95-70 score marking the most points against Illinois in 13 years.

Illinois hung within 13-10 early but, with three freshmen entering the lineup, the Badgers took advantage with a 20-0 burst sparked by 6-foot-7 sophomore Sam Dekker. No Illini other than Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand scored during the first 14 minutes.

It was a Bo Ryan clinic, a surgery in basketball terms. And the 50-25 halftime margin, with the Badgers shooting 17 free throws to Illinois’ four, indicated that the fourth-ranked hosts are not only superior but have developed a numbing psychological edge on the visitors.

That’s six straight Wisconsin wins in the series, 13 of 17 overall and 17 of 21 in Madison. From 1915 to 1989, Illinois ruled this series, but it has reversed itself.

Rice needed 21 shots to maintain his Big Ten scoring lead with 19 points and Bertrand added 18, but they had little help as the team shot 31.6 percent and couldn’t take advantage of 25 offensive rebounds. The Badgers topped 90 in a Big Ten game for the first time since 1995.

Be aggressive

It happens every week. It’s human nature. So when your favorites blow a big lead by trying to run clock, remember it’s an unavoidable aspect of basketball.

The college shot clock was designed to create exactly what is happening ... to favor the trailing team and make endings more exciting.

There was Michigan State, with its decorated coach and a veteran, talented lineup leading Ohio State 55-38 with 8:00 to go Tuesday. But from the moment Keith Appling started circling back out in stall mode, Ohio State caught fire with a fullcourt press.

There are few things more difficult in basketball than trying to score with the clock ticking down, and Michigan State was outscored 20-3 down the stretch. In fact, a 58-58 tie was nearly broken in the final second as Ohio State’s Shannon Scott missed a challenged breakaway and big Spartan Adreian Payne missed by an inch of basket interference.

Regaining their equilibrium in overtime, the Spartans went on to win 72-68. But let that be a lesson. Slowing it down with a 10-point lead and 5:00 is similar to football “prevent strategy.” Like most sports, basketball favors the aggressor.

Center of attention

When Mitch McGary declined to join Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in last year’s NBA draft, Michigan’s defending NCAA runners-up figured to have a big advantage at center. But it’s been a topsy-turvy return with McGary undergoing back surgery and the Wolverines (10-4) falling out of the polls. That said, no team returns more experience at center ... even with McGary gone.

Jon Horford is a 6-10 redshirt junior who earned the starting nod two years ago before a December stress fracture (foot) forced him to sit out. Horford cashed 14 points and nine rebounds in a 63-60 win against Minnesota last Thursday. And Jordan Morgan, his 6-8 backup, is a senior who averaged 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds as a freshman in 2010-11. Morgan was a central figure in a 68-65 defeat of Stanford on Dec. 21, kicking off a four-game win streak.

So coach John Beilein still has what every coach desires, an experienced 1-2 punch at an interior position where a few quick fouls can change the nature of any game plan.

“We were operating with two plans in the fall, and we didn’t know where we were headed,” Beilein said. “We received the ultimate bad news in losing a dominant player like Mitch. Now we know, and we’re moving forward.”

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

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