Illinois Grinds Out Road Victory

Illinois found itself in some unwelcome and foreign territory on Saturday afternoon, trailing in the second half as Purdue held a 39-33 half time lead Saturday afternoon. Dee Brown and the Illini defense were quick to put an end to that as a 23-6 run to start the second half put Illinois ahead for good in their 68-59 win in West Lafayette. Luther Head led Illinois in scoring with 15, while James Augustine's 9 rebounds were a game high.

For the first time this season, the Fighting Illini found themselves trailing after twenty minutes of play. The Purdue Boilermakers used some bad Illinois defense, and torrid shooting to head into the break with a 39-33 lead, but the entire population of people watching knew the Boiler lead was not safe. The Illini used a 23-6 run to start the second half and take control of the game mid-way through the second half.

The Illini run was keyed by point guard Dee Brown's shooting as he hit three three-pointers during the Illini run, and scored all of his fourteen points in the second half after not even attempting a shot in the first half. After the 23-6 run which gave the Illini a 56-42 lead, they kept up the defensive pressure while coasting for their first conference road victory in their first attempt this season.

In the first half Purdue's offense was keyed thanks to torrid shooting and horrible Illinois defense. Matt Kiefer scored 17 points, including 13 points in the first ten minutes when it seemed like Purdue was ready to upset the number one ranked Fighting Illini. Joining Kiefer with a stellar first half was fellow big man Carl Landry who scored 10 of his fifteen points in the first half.

The only reason Illinois was down six at the half was because of the play of the Illinois bench, specifically Jack Ingram and Rich McBride. Ingram came into the game to spell Roger Powell and James Augustine and gave Illinois' only true defensive presence in the first half against Kiefer and Landry. Rich McBride came in and got two key three pointers while the Illini were struggling to score in the first half.

The Fighting Illini forgot what defense was in the first half of this game against the Boilermakers, but they picked up the defensive intensity in the second half to slow down the Boilermakers and take control of the contest. The press will point to Dee Brown's 14 second half points, but the tide changed in this game when Illinois remembered to play defense in the second half.

The second half was drastically different from the first half for each team. In the first half Purdue was getting to every loose ball, while Illinois was standing there flat footed. In the second half, Illinois had defensive energy and was getting to loose balls, creating loose balls, and actually rotating on defense. In the first half, Purdue outrebounded Illinois 18-10, while in the second half Illinois outrebounded the Boilers 15-12 (Purdue outrebounded Illinois for the game 30-25).

Offensively, Illinois did not shoot well, especially in the first half, but they came back in the second half to bring up their shooting average to 45.1% for the game. Surprisingly, the Illini shot better from behind the arc than they did from the floor on the game, as they made eleven of twenty-two three point attempts, or 50% from behind the three point line.

Pace of Game: 58 possessions per team
Offensive Efficiency: 117.40
Defensive Efficiency: 100.82
Points per Shot Attempt (Illinois): 1.33
Points per Shot Attempt (Purdue): 1.13

As these numbers show, both teams' offenses were playing better than the respective defenses, but Purdue's numbers in the second half were much lower, especially offensively, but their torrid shooting in the first half is still remnant when it comes to their offensive efficiency (aka Illinois' Defensive Efficiency).

  • This game was won when the Illini came out in the second half and decided to play defense for the first time all game. Bruce Weber must have lit a fire within his team's stomachs to get them to play inspired defense in the second half, but it is what won them the game. It was not Dee Brown's 14 points, it was the entire team realizing that they needed to once again take pride in stopping someone from scoring if they were going to win a game on the road in the Big Ten Conference.
  • Here is a listing of the Fighting Illini streaks:
    • 16 straight wins to start the season.
    • 7 straight road wins in Big Ten Conference play
    • 12 straight wins in Big Ten Conference play (Big Ten Tournament games not included)
    • 2 straight wins in Mackey Arena
  • The most impressive thing about Dee Brown's 14 second half points was how he was shooting the basketball. Dee has learned over the past two years that because he is so short, he needs to have the shot out of his hands almost as quickly as he gets the ball in his hands to ensure the shot does not get blocked. Saturday afternoon showed how much Dee's shot has improved when it comes to his release. He was lightning quick in getting the ball off, and it resulted in 4-7 shooting.
  • James Augustine did not score much on Saturday afternoon, but he was a key cog in the Illini wheel, especially in the second half. He played tough defense against Purdue's Matt Kiefer and Carl Landry in the second half, and was the main reason Illinois cleared off the backboards better in the second half. Augustine finished the game with 9 rebounds, one short of his second straight double digit rebounding performance.
  • Nick Smith is continuing to struggle, and according to the many stories from the Illinois beat reporters that were in the paper on Saturday morning. Nick only saw four minutes, on Saturday afternoon, and he missed the only two shots he took, both shots he usually made in the past. Unfortunately for Nick he could not break out of his funk in a building that was so kind to him last year in Illinois' remarkable overtime victory.

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