CHAMPAIGN – Perhaps a bit jet-lagged from the trip to Hawaii, Illinois came out a bit flat Sunday against Gardner Webb.
Having to overcome the hangover from the Maui Championship, the Illini played from behind most of the game. A back-and-forth fight ensued down the stretch, as the two teams traded the lead four times in the final 57 seconds.
Senior Tyler Griffey gave Illinois the lead for good, draining a 3-point shot with 4.4 seconds on the clock to give the Illini a 63-62 win.
It was over when: The Gardner Webb players had a miscommunication on Illinois’ final possession. Some players were playing defense to switch ball screens while others were trying to fight through them. Griffey was preparing to screen the ball handler, Brandon Paul, but instead slipped out to the 3-point line. Paul hit Griffey for a wide-open look, a shot that was true from the get go.
Player of the game: Griffey. The senior forward’s 13 points tied for a team-high. Of course, none were more important than the final 3 Griffey notched, giving Illinois a thrilling victory in a game that could have gone either way. Griffey was assertive all game, shooting 13 times (hitting five) and logging 27 minutes.
Unsung Hero: Joseph Bertrand. The redshirt junior came off the bench early in the game with a certain confident attitude and look. With the offense struggling early, Bertrand had seven of the team’s first nine points, giving the team a necessary lift. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Stat of the game: Rebounding. The two teams finished with identical rebounding numbers – 29 total, 10 offensive, 19 defensive. The Illini were led by Paul and Bertrand, who each had six.
Stat of the game 2: Turnovers. Illinois had 18 turnovers to nine assists, a ratio that won’t sit well coach John Groce. It was the most turnovers in a game since the USC win. The team followed that performance with 11 turnovers versus Chaminade and eight against Butler, so Sunday marked an obvious step back in that area.
The takeaway: Another day, another win. The Illini improve to 7-0 on the season and survived another ‘popped in the mouth’ game, as Groce called it in the post-game press conference. Illinois can’t start off slowly Wednesday against Georgia Tech and can't turn the ball over like it did Sunday if a win is to be the result. Given all the travel and time zone complications, a flat effort was predictable. Fortuantely, a loss didn’t accompany the lessons learned.