Brandon Paul offensive overdrive wins, Illini avoid the big letdown
For 35 minutes, Illinois looked like they were heading down that ugly road we seem to have come to know well. It is known as the ice cold shooting night. For reference, please see last year against Indiana and UIC, and every game ever played against Talor Battle and Penn State. Trailing 39-33 to St Bonaventure, and the only offense Illinois had managed to muster to that point was praying that three pointers would fall (most didn't.) If things didn't change, and fast, we could be looking at another spiral of anger finger pointing.
Thankfully, Brandon Paul saved us from such a fate. Whatever switch was flipped in the junior, it was exactly what the Illini needed, and he would then drive to the basket on four straight possessions, getting the next 8 Illini points, taking the Illini all the way from six points down to tied seemingly instantaneously. All told, 11 of Paul's 17 points were scored in those final three minutes.
The end of this game, given a few week's time will probably paper over the other 37 minutes of ineffective offense we had to watch, and even though it is a victory, it is a victory that sure gives me pause.
It took that final spurt to get Illinois to 24 points in the second half, they were mostly abysmal overall everywhere offensively. Meyers Leonard who just recently some said is a for sure NBA player after this season, was absolutely out classed by the Bonnie's Andrew Nicholson, and that seemed to tear the spine right out of the offensive game plan.
Normally slump breaking Maniscalco had his first real rough game of the year, getting only five points and mostly unable to get anything going in the lane. Griffey and DJ lived and died by the three, the rest just died by it.
Chalk it up to finals, spotlight fatigue, overall youth on the team, or whatever you want, but St Bonaventure came at the Illini with a defense that was just as intense as what they will see come Big Ten season, and Illinois struggled to adapt.
The Illini defense, led once again by D.J. Richardson, should be applauded for keeping the game close enough to take back, (and maybe some credit should go to the Bonnie's offensive problems as well.) SBU was held to just 17 second half points, and turned the ball over an astonishing 18 times, which made up for Illinois' woeful 13 giveaways.
Hopefully this will be a "learning experience" and a game that "reminds the team to focus" and all of that coach speak junk. All I know is, the Illini survived one of the disastrous offensive implosions that have cost it so dearly over the last half decade, and that is what will count just as much as top 25 wins come selection Sunday.
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