Illini: ‘We didn’t fold, ‘we kept our poise’
One day after the biggest comeback in school history, Illinois center Mike Tisdale still had trouble putting it into words.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said Thursday.
The rally from 23 points down in the second half for a 76-74 victory at No. 18 Clemson on Wednesday night wasn’t the most significant rally in school history. There’s likely nothing that will ever top the 15-point rally in the final four minutes to beat Arizona and reach the Final Four in 2005, but this year’s victory in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge saved Illinois from a three-game losing streak and helped the Big Ten win the challenge for the first time.
“I don’t know if we could have dealt with another loss,” Tisdale said. “Getting that win takes a little burden off our shoulders.”
Illinois (5-2) hosts Boise State (4-2) on Saturday (6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
“Our goal now is to go through the rest of the nonconference without losing,” said Illinois forward Mike Davis. “We could do that if we play the whole game like we did in the second half.”
Without the luxury of instant replay, it was easy to miss something.
“There’s always a road victory that pulls a team together,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Maybe this was it.”
And the Illini had a lot of moments that could be potential turning points:
n ‘WE DIDN’T FOLD:” After a 28-4 run in the second half sent the Illini into a 63-61 lead with 8 minutes 47 seconds left, Illinois didn’t exhale and wilt like so many other teams do following a long rally. Illinois lost games to Bradley and Utah down the stretch last weekend, yet Illinois played differently against Clemson.
“We didn’t fold. We didn’t get tight,” Davis said. “We kept playing. We kept our poise.”
The game’s first 9 minutes were essentially a tie, just like the game’s last 9 minutes. That left for violent mood swings in the middle 22, when Clemson also rolled on a 23-4 push.
n BREAKING OUT: Illinois played a nearly flawless second half, outscoring Clemson 49-27. Illinois poured in 13 points on a string of five possessions in 2:03 to pull within 61-51. After two empty trips, a 12-point run on five possessions in 2:09 gave Illinois into a 63-61 lead.
Davis had 22 points and nine rebounds. Guard Brandon Paul finished with 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals despite getting knocked to the floor by a wild elbow to the face. Guard D.J. Richardson scored 14 points, highlighted by a rare four-point play.
Tisdale confidently walked a little taller Thursday after scoring all of his 12 points in the second half, including the basket with 41 seconds left that put the Illini ahead for good. He also blocked a shot on the ensuing Clemson possession for one of his four blocks and scored six of Illinois’ final eight points.
ILLINI ITEMS: Senior Dominique Keller didn’t score his only basket of the second half. He was credited with the two-pointer after Clemson’s Trevor Booker inadvertently tipped in an Illinois miss for a key two points in the two-point win. ... Illinois played (gasp) zone on several possessions, in part to aid Demetri McCamey in avoiding a fifth foul. ... That wasn’t the only rally by the Illini. The Illinois women’s basketball team came from 17 points behind in the second half to win 65-50 at Wake Forest. The Illini women (7-1) have won seven straight, and are off to their best start since 1981-82.
John Supinie can be reachedat Johnsupinie@aol.com.