Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Playing with Authority in ACC Country ...

Quality Win. That's what I'm talking about. Have been waiting for this energy and authority all year from the young hoopin' Illini. Finally got it tonight at Clemson of all places in the ACC / BIG-10 Challenge. This win will go a long way for the program, recruiting, resume-building, and team confidence.

Down 23 on the road in Little John to an pretty senior CLEMSON squad, the Fightin' Webbers went on a 35-10 run to get back into the game after trailing by 20 at the break and 23 early in the 2nd half. It was actually Richardson and Paul who led the way until Davis and Tisdale heated up down low. And for the first time on the young season, I saw us play with intensity and authority. We played with some organized desperation, especially on defense holding them to just 27 points in the 2nd half to our 49. Wow! Ball game for the Illini. A seminole / signature win early in the month of December when few teams typically go on the road and win a big game. Oh, and it was our biggest comeback in school history.

For the night on the road we shot it at 52%, not bad - 43% from beyond the arc on 6-14. Richardson had 14 and Paul exploded for 20 more. Mike Davis was solid down low on 9-11 shooting in posting his 22 points. Tisdale compiled all 12 of his points in the 2nd half. All of this while McCamey was in foul trouble, adding just 2 points on 1 for 5 shooting.

We still have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. Coach Webber said before tonight's tip that he wanted 4 or 5 good practices back home to get this team to where he wants it to be in early December. However, the road schedule of late hasn't allowed for much quality time. That should change with the next three at home in the friendly confines of Assembly Hall.

As for the BIG-10 / ACC Challenge implications, this was the swing game that delivered the Challenge to the BIG-10 this year. If the conference really is the best in the land this year, it had to prove it by winning this challenge after losing the first eleven. It was good to see Purdue, Northwestern, and Penn State all step up against quality foes from arguably the best b-ball conference in the land for most of this decade. There's depth in the conference this year. Good bounce-back week for the BIG-10. And it's shaping up to be a special season with 8 or maybe 9 tourney teams from a true power conference.

So, to put this game in perspective, it had to be one of the biggest road comebacks in modern history. I'm proud of my team's never-say-die attitude on the road. We were underdogs to the #19 ranked Clemson Tigers in an arena where they rarely lose to non-conference foes (77 for their last 78 or some insane number like that). And after two heartbreak losses in Vegas last weekend to Utah and Bradley, this victory could NOT have come at a better time. We grew up tonight as a basketball team under the leadership of Bruce Webber, one of the best in the business for sure. Coming back on the road will prove to be a valuable experience when conference time rolls around in January. And while I don't recommend going down by 23 as a consistent winning strategy, after tonight, this Weber team knows it's never out of a basketball game. Energy, determination, defense, clutch shooting in half-court sets, and taking care of the basketball to close out a game = Priceless. All of these are traits of teams who make deep runs in March.

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