Illinois held a 12 point lead against Michigan with 8 minutes to play. Suddenly, the Illini turned into their incompetent alter ego, missing shots, turning the ball over and failing to guard defensively. The momentum swung to the Wolverines, and the Illini couldn't recover in time to win the game.
The whole team took the loss hard, especially coach Bruce Weber.
"It was difficult. We did so well for 28-30 minutes and seemed to be in such control of the game. All of a sudden, it just turned so quickly. I was sick to my stomach. We had a chance to make a little push, and we were playing so well."
To the average fan, the most noticeable change in style of play was an apparent slowdown by the Illini. Instead of moving and cutting on offense, the Illini stood around until point guard Demetri McCamey tried to make a play late in the shot clock. A number of people assumed Weber ordered the change. Did he tell them to slow down?
"No. The ball movement, cutting movement, the pushing of the basketball was not the same (last few minutes). It's something we've talked about all year.
"We even talked about it at halftime: 'They're gonna make a push. They're gonna raise their energy level, and you've got to match it. You can't get on your heals; you've got to be the aggressor and push the basketball. Don't look at the scoreboard, don't look at the bench.'"
You can tell a player or team what to do, but doing it is another matter. There are probably several factors that contributed to the momentum change. Weber admits that fatigue played a role, especially at guard since D.J. Richardson has struggled and played only 10 unproductive minutes in the game.
"I think that might have been, even (Mike) Tisdale. Especially for them to go make plays, maybe give them a couple more breathers.
"I just hope somehow we get D.J. where he's feeling confident. I don't even care if he shoots the basketball, he's just got to be part of it defensively. Be tough and dive on the floor. Move the basketball. Right now, he's trying to make some plays that aren't there, and he gets himself in a bind. Now he loses confidence, and we lose confidence."
With the Illini suffering through a number of losses where they held leads into the second half, mental fatigue may be an even bigger factor.
"I think it takes a toll on you. I know it takes a toll on the staff. It's just human nature to get frustrated, have some doubt. But somehow we've got to find a way to work our way out of it and make some plays."
Senior point guard Demetri McCamey wants the ball in his hands late in games. He wants to take the pressure shot or make the special play. But opponents know that and take away his ball screens and other pet moves. Weber says the Illini need to help him adjust and try different things.
"We've got to find ways to get him open. I think he gets frustrated in the ball screen situation when people switch or jam him. They did a variety of things.
"He's got to have some patience and move without the basketball. We've got to get him in situations where he can use a down screen. It's the same as a ball screen, but maybe they can't do some of the things they do with the ball screens.
"We addressed that (Monday) in practice, to find a way to get him or Brandon (Paul) in situations where we can get them the ball on the move, maybe make a play when the defense really picks it up."
For McCamey, it's all about making shots. When he is confident he pushes the ball, finds the open man and plays better defense. When he is missing shots, the opposite happens.
"I think once we miss shots, we put our head down and tense up on defense," McCamey admits. "We're not aggressive in trying to get easy transition points or trying to get a stop."We tense up on defense and let guys get wide open jump shots. Not box out because you're frustrated at missing the last shot. Once we let a good team get close, they get their heads up and think they have a chance, and anything can happen."
Is the fear of seeing your team lose a factor?
"A little bit, but I think it's more frustration and tensing up. You know you had a shot that could have put you up by 13 or 11 but just couldn't crack that barrier. Now they're chipping at the lead, and you still can't make plays, get a stop or make a shot. It's gets real frustrating for you."
There was some tension between players at the end of the Michigan game. Emotions ran high, and brief confrontations among teammates magnified the problem. McCamey assures it was a temporary situation that does not indicate a chemistry issue.
"I don't think it's frustration with the teammates or anybody not liking anyone. It was just frustration because you had a big lead, and they were coming back. You couldn't make shots and couldn't get a stop. The frustration was from losing a game you shouldn't lose.
"I don't think there are any chemistry issues. Everyone was joking around and talking (Sunday), being friends. Everybody's still sticking together and doing the same things together we were doing when we were winning. It won't carry over."
Weber has been through the wars many times. He understands the psychological dynamics of the game. He realizes having several days to sit and stew over a frustrating loss like the one in Indianapolis Friday can do even more harm. He hopes putting them back to work will be a good antidote.
"We brought them together (Saturday) and lifted weights because we felt like we needed to when we got back. And we went hard (Monday) at practice, and they were good. We needed to keep them together and on track to see if we could do something."