Sure, they will say it was just another preseason basketball game, and that it did not mean more than any of the other games this season, but you know somewhere deep down the Fighting Illini are happy to get even a modicum of revenge against the North Carolina Tar Heels with Tuesday night's win in the Dean Dome. The Illini survived a 12-0 run by the young Tar Heels in the final minutes of the game to defeat North Carolina 68-64, extending their season opening winning streak to six games.
With the Illini up 66-64 , David Noel fouled Illinois freshman shooting guard Jamar Smith and put him on the line for a one and one opportunity. Smith missed the front end, looking like the Tar Heels were going to have a chance, but the Illini pulled down the long offensive rebound, and got the ball to Dee Brown near the half court line. The Tar Heels quickly fouled Brown, putting the Illini senior on the free throw line for a chance to ice the game. Brown, despite an overall poor performance, swished the two free throws ensuring the Illini would leave the Dean Dome still undefeated on this short season.
James Augustine recorded another double double with his 13 points and 13 rebounds, but he was not used enough in the Illini offense. He only took 6 shots, and when the Illini offense struggled in the final minutes as Carolina was racing back into the contest, Augustine did not attempt one shot. When the Illini offense goes through its down points, they need to get the ball inside, but the Illini guards seem to just not try to get the ball into the post, and prefer passing the ball around the perimeter. With the game James was having, and his experience factor over any one defending him, he should have been allowed to set up shop in the lane, and do much more than 13 points on 6 shots.
Early in this season, the Illini games have been characterized by many things, but one common thread that has run through almost every game, Dee Brown pushing himself too hard. He did it in the first two games of the season, and then he calmed down for a very good game against Texas Southern where he let it come to him. Then against Wichita State with the Illini offense struggling, he pushed himself to do too much and got out of his comfort zone again. Tuesday night's game was not the best performance for Dee, but it was because he was trying to do to much. When Brown had an open three-pointer, he never set his feet and often times took the shot while somewhat fading away. The other thing Dee did was try to take too many shots off the dribble. Yes, I want to see him develop a mid-range game, but right now he is more forcing the mid-range than letting it come to him in the offense. This is partially by design as he is the guy to take the tough shots in the offense, but I think he was doing it too much too soon on Tuesday night.
Enough with the harping on the negatives from Brown on Tuesday night. He was the player who iced the game for the Illini, and he wanted the ball when the game was on the line. He controlled the tempo for the Illini, by pressuring the young Carolina backcourt into a speed they were not extremely comfortable with, though they did hold their own. On offense, Dee was great at getting past his defender and getting to the rim for the easy layup. When he started struggling offensively was when the Carolina defense started to rotate to stop his drives from getting all the way to the basket.
Offensive Efficiency: 99.29
Defensive Efficiency: 95.35
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 45.8%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 63.0%
In both team's games against a high major opponent, their offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency decreased. Despite a great offensive rebounding night from the Illini, the Illini could not cross the one point per possession limit on the offensive end of the court. While their defense was not up to par with the normal Illini defense, and it was pointed out by numerous commentators, including Jay Bilas leading into the halftime break on ESPN, the Illini kept North Carolina off the offensive glass in comparison to what they had done in their previous three games of the season, helping to hold the Tar Heels to under one point per possession as well.
RANDOM GAME NOTES
- I can't believe that I just wrote six paragraphs on the game and did not mention sophomore wing forward Brian Randle. Randle was the Illini's MVP on Tuesday night with his defense, rebounding, and a surprising three point stroke. Randle filled up the stat sheet with his performance against North Carolina including a great block on a Tar Heel breakaway. Hopefully this is a game that we, as Illini fans, can look back on and say that was when Brian figured out how good he could really become.
- Tyler Hansbrough is going to be good and Roy Williams should be thanking his lucky stars that Quin Snyder has the Missouri basketball program in shambles. Hansbrough will be a very good player for the Tar Heels this year, but he could become a special player by his sophomore year.
- Any win in Chapel Hill against the North Carolina Tar Heels is a great win. I don't care if North Carolina finishes the year losing every game (not going to happen), but I am extremely excited that the Illini were able to leave a hostile environment like the Dean Dome with a victory. Sure, they turned the ball over too much, but the Illini just left the Dean Dome with a victory. Let me repeat that, the Illini left the Dean Dome with a victory. I can't say that too many times.
- The Illini are now 3-4 all-time in the Big Ten / ACC Challenge. The Illini are 2-1 against North Carolina in the Challenge with wins in both Champaign and Chapel Hill, and a loss coming in Bruce Weber's first time as head coach in the Challenge in Charlotte. The Illini's other losses were to Duke (in Chicago and Greensboro) and at Maryland. The Illini's only other win was last year's dismantling of Wake Forest in Champaign. As far are where the games have been played, the Illini have played in one neutral friendly arena (the United Center), two neutral hostile arenas (Greensboro and Charlotte), two road games (Maryland and North Carolina), and two home games (vs. Carolina and Wake).