#22 Illini Escape St. Bonnies 48-43; Season Uglier than 9-0 Record

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It would be fair to say that last year’s Illini basketball team might have lost a game like last night. After all, the 2010-11 Illinois team lost to lowly UIC in a de facto home game at the United Center while being ranked #12.

And they failed to win back-to-backs from mid-January on. You could say they didn’t handle success very well. The 2011-12 Illini might have a similar problem; yet they somehow won a game “like this.”

And by “like this” I mean the UIC loss last year, or the 38-33 defeat to Penn State in 2009.
“Coming down to the wire like against UIC last year and we let that game slip away, but we have a different team this year and we’re tougher and the upperclassmen did a good job of leading and locking down defensively,” said Illini guard D.J. Richardson after the game

After obtaining the #22 ranking in one national poll, #24 in the other, this could have been a trap/let-down game. And for 35 minutes it was, as Illinois played most of the game like a team the NCAA itself should strip of their national ranking.

Has an undefeated team ever fallen out of the polls despite staying perfect?

This win was the polar opposite of the 47 point thrashing of Chicago St., the domination of NCAA Tournament staple Richmond or the decisive win over then #18 Gonzaga this past Saturday.

Grinding out a Cancun Challenge title by edging nearby rival Illinois State 63-59 or only beating Lipscomb, a school only the nerdiest of college basketball nerds have even heard of, by just 15 was ugly.

This was beyond UGLY- it was avert your eyes or you’ll be sick. Actor Justin Long is very ugly; but I can’t come up with any Hollywood personality to analogize with this game because no person that hideous would ever be allowed in television or movies.

Was this just a crash off the high of beating a ranked, previously unbeaten Gonzaga team?

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Illini Coach Bruce Weber said.

“I was hoping St. Bonaventure would be 5-1 or something so you could sell it a little better. But we had exams, you got a lot of freshmen, and practice yesterday was just dead- there was no noise, nothing. You talk to a couple of kids and they had to leave to go get papers done and everything, so you stick a game in the middle of this thing, after two big wins,” he continued

Illinois shot 7-26 (27%) from behind the arc, but it felt like 2-267. Brandon Paul took over at the end and bailed the Illini out. His 4-11 from the 1-6 from 3 stat line doesn’t tell the story of how critical BP was to rescuing the team in crunch time.

Illinois spent most of the second half behind to St. Bonaventure as the Bonnies (yes that really is their mascot name) came all the way from upstate New York to almost obtain their first win over a ranked opponent since 2002 (80-79 over #24 Xavier). The Bonnies, who are projected to be a very middle of the road team in the Atlantic 10 conference, are 12-82 versus ranked teams since 1968.

They were led in scoring with 17 by Andrew Nicholson, a 6-9, 240 pound forward from Ontario, Canada with serious NBA Draft stock. Nicholson has the versatilitiy to post it up and shoot from the outside, making him a tough opponent to defend.

Paul led the Illini scoring with 17.

Penn State lost by four to lowly Lafayette and Purdue only beat Western Carolina by 5 after trailing for awhile. So the Big Ten struggling with low-major flu is clearly going around.

 

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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