All season, the Illinois Fighting Illini have had problems stringing two strong performances together. After playing a near perfect game against UNLV, the Illini needed a repeat performance in order to upset the 1st seeded Kansas Jayhawks. While the effort was there, the Illini just didn’t have enough to overcome the Jayhawks in a 73-59 season-ending loss. Marcus and Markieff Morris dominated down low for Kansas as they combined for 41 points and 25 rebounds.
The Illini faced an uphill battle all game. With a pro-Jayhawk crowd behind them, Kansas came out firing and grabbed a quick 18-6 lead. Illinois looked shell-shocked as they fired up bad shots and couldn’t get anything going on offense. It looked like the Illini were going to get run out of the building.
But Mike Davis wasn’t going to let Illinois go down without a fight. As the Illini defense finally started to key in, Davis helped get them back in it offensively. Showing off an array of moves, Davis scored 11 points in the first half to cut the Kansas lead to four by halftime.
The Illini were able to keep it within arms reach for the majority of the second half, but they just couldn’t get over the hump. Every time they got close, the Jayhawks would push the lead back out. With 6:35 left, the Illini were able to close the gap to 56-51. But just like all season, Illinois couldn’t execute down the stretch. Kansas went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to put the game away.
It’s always tough to face the end of a season. Even though I didn’t expect to win this game, the loss still hurts. With such high expectations coming into the year, a second round exit was not what I was envisioning. To make matters worse, the Illini lost to the coach that left them for greener pastures. Since leaving Illinois for Kansas after the 2002-2003 season, Bill Self has won a national championship and enjoyed years of success. After losing in the title game in 2005, Illinois has been mired in mediocrity. This has been really frustrating for Illini fans and hopefully can be turned around in the next few years.
The difference in this game was obviously the Morris twins. It was known going into the game that Kansas had a huge advantage down low. The Illini aren’t a physical team and the Morris’s are both NBA caliber players. It showed as they dominated Davis and Mike Tisdale down low. The Illini big men fought hard, but they just couldn’t match the strength and athleticism of the twins. This is where the Illini could have really used suspended forward Jereme Richmond. His length and toughness could have been disruptive to the Kansas attack. Richmond was suspended for violating athletic department rules and his future with the team is unclear.
Demetri McCamey had a rough (but probably fitting) ending to his Illini career. After watching a slew of great performances the night before (Jimmer, Kemba, Pullen, Mack), I was really hoping for a similar effort from McCamey. The Illini were going to need him to come up big if they were hoping to shock the Jayhawks. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task.
McCamey only scored six points as he was held in check all night. He struggled to find open looks and looked tentative a majority of the game. When the Illini needed him most down the stretch, McCamey couldn’t deliver. I think this game really hurts his NBA Draft stock. His lack of quickness and explosiveness was evident tonight, and these traits are necessary to be a successful NBA point guard.
As disappointed as I was with McCamey, I was proud of the effort Davis and Tisdale put forth tonight. Despite being outclassed down low, they left their hearts out on the floor. Both of them were as aggressive as I’ve ever seen them on both ends of the court. They realized their days at Illinois were running out, and played with desperation. It was really tough to watch when Davis fouled out towards the end of the game. You could tell how hard it him that his Illini career was over. He walked to the bench with his head down and immediately threw a towel over him as he sat down. I really felt for him at that moment and made me appreciate what he gave to the Illinois program.
This loss marked the end of a tumultuous campaign. It was a rollercoaster ride that provided a wide range of emotions. I could go on and on, but I’ll save it for my upcoming season recap.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.