Even with only three games on the slate, Wednesday night was a fun night of Big Ten hoops... at least if you were a Boilermaker or Wildcats fan.
Game of the Night: Providence Friars (2-0) 60, Illinois Fighting Illini (1-2) 59
Well, that was interesting... The Fighting Illini came out pretty strong offensively to start the game behind a fantastic first half performance by Malcolm Hill -- who had nine of his 15 total points in the first twenty minutes-- all the while keeping the Friars best player in Kris Dunn extremely quiet -- which the Illini did for the majority of the game (something this team should be extremely proud of).
Butttttttt, not as much can be said about the Illini's box out plan. Illinois gave up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half that led to 11 points for the Friars. That's right, ten for eleven. Tack on an additional six offensive rebounds in the second half that led to six more points and well, you can't be too shocked in the end result. Illinois was absolutely lackadaisical on the defensive glass and it bit them in the rear end. Sure, people will look at the last three possessions of this game and see that the Illini had a chance to win -- er, should've won -- but if they simply grab a few more of those 50-50 balls, the Friars never put Illinois in that position to begin with.
The Good: John Groce's bench played very well tonight, helping keep Illinois in the game. Jalen-Coleman Lands was a revelation in the second half pouring in nine of his 17 points (on 5-7 shooting from three point land) and Michael Finke was a difference maker in his twenty seven minutes of playing time. One quick note on Finke: Maybe it was just me, but the overall offense seemed to hum a little better when the freshman forward was in the game. Hell, the kid went on an 8-0 run all by himself to start the second half. At the very least, watching Coleman Lands and Finke grow together with the surplus of minutes up for grabs is going to be appointment television for the Krush faithful.
The Bad: This... just all of this:
I mean what is there to say? Hill missed a bunny that I'd bet he makes seven times out of ten and Finke misses the power flush off Hill's miss that he probably makes nine times out of ten. It was one of the most exciting/disappointing moments of the early Big Ten season. As I mentioned above, the fact that this game came down to three straight last second opportunities is the least of Groce's worries. If this team would've just taken a little pride in boxing out the end result should've been switched in the Illini's favor.
Good job, good effort?
Northwestern (2-0) 79, Fairfield (0-3) 72
It can never be easy for these 'cats, but I suppose that's what will (hopefully) make this journey one to remember. Last night, Northwestern jumped all over Fairfield early, but couldn't quite bury them. The Stags stuck around, even when Northwestern conjured up leads that trickled up to as much as fourteen, they kept on fighting.
It also didn't help that Northwestern sent Fairfield into the bonus with fourteen minutes remaining in the game (the Stags finished 14-16 from the stripe in the second half) while going ice cold from the field. But in the end Bryant McIntosh (20 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals) and Tre Demps (14 points, two rebounds and three assists) scored 21 of the teams 40 second half points, keeping the Wildcats above water.
Purdue (3-0) 96, Incarnate Word (2-1) 61
Talk about blowing the roof off the building. The 21st ranked Boilermakers used a 72% first half shooting effort to build a 53-24 lead. It was almost as if Purdue was playing NBA Jam and every player on the roster had their flame shoes on (THEY SHOT 89.5% inside the arch in the first half and finished the game just under 60%).
This also marked the first game in which senior center A.J. Hammons played in after being benched for the first two games for reasons unknown. Hammons played 15-total minutes, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks; but it was Isaac Haas (who got the start at center again tonight) that shined brightest of all the Boiler big men, finishing with a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) and four blocks for good measure.
Fun stat of the night: Purdue out rebounded Incarnate World 56-19. May they have mercy on Illinois' soul on January 10.