Illini Fall To Michigan 72-61, Well At Least We Can Accept Reality Again
The last Illini game of the season at Assembly Hall has come and gone.* Heading into the night the Illini had something to play for, a reasonable if unlikely chance to make the NCAA tournament as an at large team. 8-10 was a longshot but still a shot.
Unfortunately the Illini just could not stop Michigan, or would not, so some combination of the two. And Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke combined for 46 points. Team defense came in fits and starts. Transition baskets were given up. However you count it, stops were not gotten.
The game was lost in spite of a very impressive performance from the team's best player, Meyers Leonard, who totaled 18 points and 9 rebounds. It was senior night, and while only Sam Maniscalco and Jean Selus were honored as seniors, Meyers might as well have too. There is no question he is jumping to the NBA this off season, and that was hammered home by a different pregame event. Meyers' older brother Bailey arrived by surprise, home from his most recent deployment in Afghanistan. laying in the NBA, even as a late lottery or slightly lower pick, is a life changing amount of money. Yes, Meyers could play another year, under a new coach, get publicity for National Player of the Year, and end up being a top five pick. Or he could blow out his ACL, go undrafted, and have missed his opportunity. This kid is 19 years old and has the weight of his family on his shoulders. If him going to the NBA means he can take care of his mother, and allows his brother not to have to reenlist, then by God he should go. I am not that selfish.
This was also very likely the last home game in the regular season with Bruce Weber as the Illini coach. With only the Big Ten tournament left as an option to make the NCAA tournament, its getting really unlikely that they will make the miracle run to save Weber's job.
I think I can save the career retrospective for another day, but suffice to say, it isn't going to be a relatively quiet Assembly Hall, losing at home to Michigan for the first time since 1995. It wont be this.
I know that I have had some really great times because of Bruce, and that there will be great times ahead with another coach.
So here we are. One trip to Madison, then to Indianapolis and then the great unknown.
There is a lot of talent on the team, and with the right person, it might bounce right back next year. Or with the wrong person, there is a mass exodus, the recruiting inroads and we tank for a couple seasons. Who knows.
The living wake for the Illini season continues this weekend though, when Illinois goes after a fourth win in Madison in ten years.
*(NIT games notwithstanding)
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