Friday, March 14, 2008

Third Time's a Charm (Again)

"They" say it's hard to beat a team 3 times in a season. Tonight, Penn State and Purdue would agree.

This is the team we've seen tantalizing glimpses of all year. A team that can score in the last minute of a game. A team with a strong inside and outside game. A team that fights back to reach OT and makes (at least a few) free throws down the stretch. McCamey was impressive -- 6 for 6 from 3. And Pruitt was a load inside. Although he fouled out, Randle helped the Illini get off to a strong start, and Meacham's assists for the backdoor cut were truly beautiful.

Despite turnovers and standard free throw shooting, the Illini stayed focused and made shots when it counted. Yes, Purdue helped out with missed free throws of their own and both teams had plenty of turnovers, but the Illini once again wrote a different ending to their story. They tied the game with under 20 seconds to go -- and then got a critical defensive stop. A combination of solid defense, good passing and Demetri's shooting helped the Illini win.

[Side note: I must confess that I made a point to watch the second half of this game because I want to watch my boys' last game of the season. I was surrounded by Illini fans with more faith in the team than I had -- although I'm fairly sure they hadn't followed this season closely enough to appreciate how many times they've broken my heart with a close loss. But yes, the Illini won, and although McCamey probably could have hit a half-court shot, there was no need with 2 minutes left in OT. But thanks for putting up with my doubts and cheering with me, guys.]

The Big Ten Tourney has traditionally allowed the Illini to shine. With the season on the line and no expectations, the combination of experienced seniors and talented freshmen are determined to keep playing until they're out.

The Illini also have a history of beating teams for the third time in a season during the conference tournament. The Golden Gophers, who knocked Indiana out with one of the most impressive buzzer-beaters of the season, could fall into that category, as well. After all, there's also a tournament precendent for teams to play four games in four days...

Go Illini!


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