Illinois trailed Wisconsin Sunday by 12 points nearing the mid-point of the second half, with baskets hard to come by for Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, the guards that usually carry the shooting load.
Bertrand made his first start of the season, but settled into his usual wait-and-see offensive role. To that point, the redshirt junior had mostly waited, taking only three shots and scoring two points.
With the team headed for a sixth loss in seven games, Bertrand stopped deferring to Paul and anybody else.
He started his run with a six-foot jumper made possible by a drive into the paint. He dribbled hard to the basket on the next two possessions, hitting two layups.
"I just don't think we were attacking the lane as much in the first half as the second half," he said of the change in approach.
Bertrand's assertiveness didn't alter the outcome. The Illini were playing too poorly on defense for his points to matter as Wisconsin went on to win 74-86.
The success, however, did free him of hesitations, caused for any number of reasons, to look to score the rest of the game. He went on to score nine more points to finish with a team-high 17 on 8 of 12 shooting and added seven rebounds.
Barely more than a footnote for three-quarters of the game, Bertrand scored 15 points during the last 11 minutes, and, while the performance didn't lead to a victory, he kept the Illini from what could very well have been an embarrassing final score.
"That got us back in the game a little bit," he said. "It was too little, too late."
The coaches didn't tell the native of Sterling, Ill., he was going to start until the day of the game. Eager for an edge of any kind, Coach Jim Groce issued an open competition in the practices leading up to Sunday for positions in the starting lineup.
Bertrand was one of five chosen, but didn't go along with the notion that beginning the game on the court instead of the bench changed his mentality.
"I think it's really no different," he said.
"I think it's really just the same, either coming off the bench or starting."
That's easy to say now considering Paul and Richardson will likely get the bulk of the shot attempts in the remaining nine regular season game.
Paul and Richardson, along with Tracy Abrams and Sam McLaurin, are the team captains and Bertrand, whether he'll admit it or not, has mostly bypassed the pressure of the spotlight by playing the role of sixth man. He's been in the program going on four years now and is largely considered the most athletic player on the roster. Yet, he hasn't been counted on to necessarily be a leader, to be a go-to scorer or the face of the franchise.
That's to say, this is not Bertrand's team. Not yet, at least. Not with Paul, Richardson, McLaurin and fellow senior Tyler Griffey on the roster. But next season, as Groce enters his crucial second year at the helm, Bertrand will be the most experienced, the oldest and almost certainly a captain.
With that the case, the Joe Bertrand that opened his game up, attacked and asserted himself on both ends of the floor will be imperative to success.
Until then though, what does Bertrand have to lose?