Illinois v Purdue

No. 11 Illinois falls in Big Ten opener at Purdue

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Illinois was in the midst of a 10-2 run to cut what was a 10 point lead down to 63-61 when Purdue’s Jacob Lawson missed two free throws with 20 seconds left. The ball took a funny bounce off the rim and rolled towards the corner. Senior guard DJ Byrd fought off a box out from Sam McLaurin, chased down the loose ball and managed to call a timeout from his knees before his momentum carried him out of bounds.

On the ensuing inbounds, Purdue found Byrd under the basket, and he laid the ball in while drawing a foul, putting the Boilermakers up five, sealing the 68-61 win over No. 11 Illinois.

Before I get into anything specific about either team, there’s something that needs to be made abundantly clear: this game was played at Purdue in Mackey Arena.

And if there is anything that we know is consistently true about college basketball, it’s that winning on the road is a very difficult thing to do, especially in conference play. Illinois, which has dropped eight straight to Purdue, was within one possession on two different occasions in the final minute. This wasn’t exactly a blowout. That’s something to keep in mind here.

Having said that, there is plenty that we can take out of this game.

For starters, Purdue provided every team in the Big Ten with the blueprint for how to beat Illinois.

– Step 1: Contain Brandon Paul. He finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, but had seven points when the Illini were down 10 with about three minutes left. He hit two threes on back-to-back possessions to get Illinois within three.

– Step 2: Don’t allow Illinois’ other wings to get hot from keep. Joseph Betrand, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams were a combined 4-16 from three.

– Step 3: Get to the offensive glass. Purdue had 17 offensive boards and notched an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.6%.

But Purdue also showed why the Big Ten is going to be such a tough and competitive league in 2013.

The Boilermakers are, by most accounts, no better than ninth in the Big Ten heading into league play. But they are also a young team that’s finally getting healthy. Terone Johnson, who found his way onto a lot of breakout player lists and was battling injuries earlier in the year, finished with a season-high 25 points in the win. DJ Byrd, who was shooting 30.7% from three coming in, hit 4-9 from beyond the arc.

(Byrd hit six of his first seven at Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but missed 19 straight threes after that. He’s 12-26 since hitting his second three against Notre Dame four games ago. He’s streaky, but when he gets it going, he’s dangerous.)

The bottom line is this: Illinois isn’t a team built to win games on the road. They rely too heavily on the three and on Brandon Paul. But regardless of opponent, a road win in the Big Ten is not going to be an easy thing to come by.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.