Illinois! Kent State! NIT Madness!!

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Illinois fans rush the court after the game Demetri McCamey

By Paul Schmidt

I suppose by madness, you could look at it as mad that I drove for 2 or 3 hours to cover a second round NIT game.  That certainly could be considered MAD!

Or just plain dumb, depending on your point of view.

But the fact is that I really like this group of Illinois players. I wish them nothing but success.  I want them to win. And though I’m not that emotionally invested in their success in the NIT, I still want to see them do well.

I guess, for better or worse, I’ll have the action for you here tonight, in about two minutes. Only roughly 9-10,000 tickets sold, too, so I know you’re at home in front of your laptops…

Illinois-Kent State, TIPOFF: Small crowd but a loud one. Not a ton of students around, though. It will be interesting to see just how involved the crowd gets with this squad tonight, against what looks like a scrappy Kent State squad.

Illinois 4, Kent State 2 18:14 left 1H: Kent State’s coach might be under 5 feet tall.  He is seriously a midget and shorter than the officials…

Kent State 6, Illinois 4, 17:00 left 1H: There have been four dunks so far in the game, three of them coming from Kent State. That’s not a statement of them being any good…just that that is how interested Illinois looks about playing defense…

Kent State 8, Illinois 8, 15:15 left 1H: I’ve been going back and forth but I think I kind of like Kent State’s uniforms, the bright gold and navy blue.  It’s garish enough that it is kind of enjoyable to see running around.

Illinois 11, Kent State 8, 14:16 left 1H: Kent State is not scared of the big bad Big Ten team, this I know. Demetri McCamey just hit every part of the rim on a three that gave the Illini the lead.  I think this game is exciting so far.

Illinois 13, Kent State 11, 11:46 left 1H: Apparently Jenna Smith became Illinois basketball’s all-time scoring leader, male or female, topping both Ashley Berggren and Deon Thomas (I assume…it wasn’t like it was Bubba Smith).  She has 2,000-someodd points. That’s a lot.  She got a nice round of applause from the crowd, which is filling up some here.  I’d guess somewhere around 12 or 13,000 now. The seats in line with center court are almost full.

Kent State 17, Illinois 16, 10:16 left 1H: Right now the Illini seem content to not only not play D, but just gun up threes from the outside and not run any kind of offense in the half court.  That will lose them this game.

Kent State 20, Illinois 20, 8:29 left 1H: Midget coach is applauding his players’ passing and effort, even as they miss free throw after free throw. Bruce Weber appears to be upset with his teams performance. He should be. Though the offense looks pretty good, the kind we only saw in flashes this season, the defense looks beyond much repair — unfortunately the same D we saw most of the season.  We’ll call it…uninterested.

Illinois 22, Kent State 21, 7:17 left 1H: There keeps being random bursts of applause based on what is on the replay screen, and I don’t know why. It’s confusing, and frustrating. Stop reacting to things I don’t have time to look at, crowd!! Also, I’m not convinced Illinois cares that much about winning this game. With them, I have this in common. I might get Dairy Queen tonight.

Illinois 22, Kent State 21, 6:37 left 1H: Apparently the cheer was for incoming Illini recruit Meyers Leonard. That’s solid. I’ll allow that, and if anything it should have been bigger. Although I don’t know if an NIT game is the way to sell Illinois to one of your top recruits. Not the road I’d have taken.

Illinois 24, Kent State 21, 5:53 left 1H: OK, that was an amazing play from DCames…wow. Behind the back on the fast break to a trailing Dominique Keller for the slam in transition.  It was as ridiculous as it sounds in person. In true Dominique Keller fashion, however, he committed a foul immediately on the opposite end…

Illinois 28, Kent State 24, 4:22 left 1H: I find it weird that, yes, I am typing this sentence: Dominique Keller is your leading Illini scorer with 8.

Illinois 28, Kent State 27, 3:42 left 1H: I’m being forced to consider that this Illinois team just isn’t that good. I don’t like thinking this.

Kent State 29, Illinois 28, 2:56 left 1H: OK, now I’m just saying it — Kent State isn’t that good, and they are beating Illinois. Ergo, via the transitive property, Illinois just isn’t that good.  I’m angry now.

Kent State 29, Illinois 28, 1:50 left 1H: Midget Coach also has trouble calling time out. He’s not just small of stature but small of voice…

Kent State 31, Illinois 28, 1:10 left 1H: This Illinois crowd — which, quite frankly, didn’t appear to care that much to begin with — have been REALLY taken out of this game. I think their spirit was broken earlier this season, and it’s just carrying over into the “postseason.”

Illinois 31, Kent State 31, 32.2 left 1H: And yet, if the Illini play 30 seconds of defense, they can go into half tied.  A victory, really…

Illinois 31, Kent State 31, HALFTIME: Well, there ya go!  Not only did they play a little defense, but they got a steal, and Dominique Keller went the length of the court and…got called for the charge. The groan was nearly audible from the crowd.

All in all a depressing first half for the Illini, who should be up 10 right now but are tied because they have been lazy on defense and, as the half wore on, stagnant in their offense. Shockingly, it was enough to still stay tied. That’s all you need to know about the Golden Flashes offense.

I would say that this is the place to make a joke about the National Guard shooting kids in relation to Kent State, but I’m not bitter and angry enough just yet.  Maybe if the Illini lose the game or play like dog poop in the second half…

Illinois 33, Kent State 31, 18:39 left 2H: The Illini come out…well strong, I guess. They’ve drawn a couple fouls already, and we’re not that far in, so they are doing more penetration than normal (that’s what she said).

Illinois 33, Kent State 31, 17:43 left 2H: Hard foul on Demetri McCamey, right into the basketball standard. Also, I think Bruce Weber got a haircut.  I might ask him after the game.

Illinois 35, Kent State 31, 16:46 left 2H: Golden Flashes’ sixth man Anthony Simpson is really ugly.  REALLY ugly. Looks like a bulldog with that underbite ugly.

Illinois 39, Kent State 31, 15:48 left 2H: Kent State still hasn’t scored in the second half, and the Illini are on an 8-0 run. They are resembling a good basketball team right now, but if they were shooting better in the second half, they’d be up 15 right now…

Illinois 43, Kent State 37, 14:22 left 2H: A little scoring binge there. The Illini are still looking aggressive on offense which is nice, though the revolving door is back ope non defense, with two easy baskets the last two trips, the last of which will be an and-one situation after the TV time out. It was also Mike Tisdale’s third foul.

Illinois 49, Kent State 38, 12:11 left 2H: I was just crafting a really long little post about how hot and cold the Illini had been this game and the internet crapped out and it was gone.  Then the Illini went on a 6-0 run.  You’ll just have to trust me that I’m a prophet on that one…

Illinois 51, Kent State 40, 11:25 left 2H: A really nice look inside from Jeff Jordan to Brandon Paul, and the Illini are back up 11. They seem, for now, to be in control.

Illinois 56, Kent State 45, 10:01 left 2H: Kent State made a quick little run but the Illini get it back out to 11 because of Cames. Two layups, one of them drawing a foul and a free throw, and the Illini are back in control again. The Illini, it should be mentioned, are driving a lot more in this game because they are shooting 15 percent from three point range. DJ Richardson has missed something like 10 threes.

Illinois 58, Kent State 47, 8:22 left 2H: The Kent State family section stands out as very redneck, even in a crowd full of townies tonight. People who went to U of I understand how amazing that is.

Illinois 61, Kent State 48, 7:43 left 2H: DJ RICHARDSON! FOR! THREEEEE! It could be a dagger.

Illinois 61, Kent State 48, 7:21 left 2H: It’s actually a remarkable difference in the crowds between the first and second halves in this one, and I’ll give the credit to the Illini Nation on this one. They are showing some love, protesting every call and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  AND they are preventing me from making an inappropriate joke about the Kent State shootings and this crowd’s mojo.  So there’s that…

Illinois 61, Kent State 48, 6:51 left 2H: Somehow all the fans, the Golden Flashes faithful and the Illini fans were all booing the officials going into the last time out.  THAT is how you know you’re doing a good job, stripes…

Illinois 66, Kent State 51, 5:39 left 2H: The Illini are slowly building this lead, and keeping Kent State at bay…and this two shot foul and a technical on Chicago’s own Chris Singletary should help the Illini ice the game. With 5 minutes left, and the ball, it should be too much for the Golden Flashes to come back from.

Illinois 72, Kent State 52, 3:47 left 2H: I hope that anyone that is in favor of NCAA Tournament expansion is watching this game. This is NOT good basketball. Kent State does NOT deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament — especially while getting their doors blown off against Illinois. And Kent State was a 4 seed in this thing!  There were, at least theoretically, 16 teams worse than Kent State in this tournament, and they’re ALL going to be dancing next year??  This is a terrible idea.  Please, someone intervene!!

Illinois 74, Kent State 53, 2:04 left 2H: And the Illini are clearing the bench.  I’ll be back with the final score and post game wrapup, but the Illini live to see another day, and will take on either Cincinnati or Dayton on Wednesday here at Assembly Hall in Champaign.

Illinois 75, Kent State 58, FINAL: Well, the Illini win in blow out fashion, dominating every part of the second half in this one. Mike Davis was insanely good, and the Golden Flashes had no answer for him tonight, as he scored 16 and grabbed 16 boards. According to the stats, Cames put up a quiet double-double himself with 15 points and 10 assists himself. Dayton leads by five at the half, so…we’ll see.

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