Heat Checks and Hail Marys - A Story of Missed Opportunities

Mike Cagley, Co-Host IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular

February 7, 2023

Heat Check #1 – The Illini Need Better Game Awareness

The Illini killed themselves at the end of the first half with some poor judgment, poor game awareness and poor time management. Iowa even tried to help with some bad play of their own, but the Hawkeyes managed to score 6 points in the final 58 seconds to make it a one-point game at the half. This turned out to be huge at the end of the game. The Iowa loss is a story of missed opportunities for the Illini and made free throws for the Hawkeyes.

Exhibit A – Illini up 36-29 with 0:58 seconds to go in the first half.

  • Ty Rodgers makes a steal and then had the ball stolen by Tony Perkins on a pass to Harris that was nearly impossible to thread the needle for completion.
  • The Perkins steal led to a Filip Rebraca score on a goaltend by Coleman Hawkins after Rebraca was fouled by Rodgers and hit the free throw to make it 36-32. A steal with an opportunity to score was turned into a 3-point play for Iowa.

Not trying a high-risk pass might’ve led to a 38-29 lead instead of a 4-point lead. Harris wasn’t really open, and the pass shouldn’t have been thrown. Rodgers has been much better with his turnovers on offense recently but not here.

Exhibit B – Illini up 36-32 with 37 seconds remaining in the half.

  • The Illini bring the ball down and Melendez gets the ball on the swing pass in the left corner. He’s left open because he’s been in a horrible shooting slump. Iowa isn't guarding him. Melendez shoots while the Iowa defense looks for the rebound. Iowa didn’t guard RJ and Ulis gets the rebound after moving over to make sure RJ didn’t get the offensive board. There were 18 seconds left on the shot clock.

At this point, it may not be the time for RJ to break his shooting slump. The Hawkeyes were making the game close. With 18 seconds left on the shot clock, a better shot with someone who isn’t in a horrific slump might’ve been in order.

Exhibit C – Giving up a three pointer with 1 second left in the half.

  • After Josh Dix "saved" the Illini by hoisting up a 25-foot three with 0:28 seconds to go, Hawkins gets the rebound and outlets the ball to Shannon. As a veteran, one would expect Shannon to have played this a bit more conservative and be aware of the chance to hold for the final shot. Instead, Shannon bolts towards the hoop and passes out of a right-handed layup to an open Jayden Epps in the left corner. With 21 seconds to go Epps shoots an open three and misses.
  • The opportunity to hold for the last shot and prevent any further Iowa scores in the half is over. Iowa calls a timeout. After the timeout, with 1 second to go Iowa scores on a Murray three-pointer coming off a pick on the block. On the wing, Shannon gave Murray a bit of room, respecting the dribble even though there wasn’t time to dribble.

Illini finish up by 36-35 at the half. The Illini had a turnover, two quick shots that were open, but their game awareness switch was off, and they inadvertently bailed the Hawkeyes out and allowed them six points that didn’t have to happen.

To win close games, you cannot give up six points with little or no thought. If those six points would’ve been prevented, this would’ve resulted in a four-point Illini win, despite the Hawkeyes going 22-25 from the free throw line in the second half. The Illini don't have a time machine to play the 58 seconds over, but they must learn from this near minute of action and use it to improve.

Heat Check #2 – The Illini Need Understand the Officials Have Changed Their Calls and Adapt Quicker

The game was the story of two differently officiated halves. In the first half, there were 14 fouls called and the two teams combined to shoot 9 free throws. It was a great game to watch.

In the second half, the officials apparently had had enough with the way they officiated the first half and decided that tight whistles were now the way the game would be called. They called 29 fouls and the two teams combined for 44 free throws.

The officials lost control of the game and turned it into a slogging mess for the television watchers. Whatever caused this change was immaterial. The Illini didn’t respond to it quick enough and in two instances, the Illini committed the fouls necessary for Iowa to creep back into the game twice (not once).

Exhibit D – Illini Up 47-39 with 15:45 left in the game.

  • The Illini had built a commanding lead (for such a tight game), and then Ty Rodgers was called for a foul on Tony Perkins. Tony didn’t know it at the time, but he would end up shooting more free throws in one half than Kofi Cockburn ever attempted in a whole game – try wrapping your head around that one.
  • From the point where the Illini were up 47-39 to the point where the Illini would stop the slide at 52-49, the Illini would foul five times putting the Hawkeyes on the line for 4 of 5 from the free throw line. The Hawkeyes would be able to keep chipping away at the lead and the Illini kept allowing them to do so with the clock stopped. There were also multiple possessions where the Illini didn’t even get a shot up.

At some point, the Illini needed to think about what was happening on the court and take a look at doing something differently when defending. How about not hand checking for a few possessions until the officials "calm down"? Collegiate officiating can be inconsistent on a bad night, on Saturday the Illini proved teams cannot afford to ignore it when the officials change how the game is being called.

Exhibit E – Illini Up 62-55 with 9:48 left in the game.

  • At 62-55, this Iowa rally started the exact same way the 47-39 rally did. Ty Rodgers had another foul on Tony Perkins, who made 2-2 from the line. After that, it was a Harris turnover and foul that allowed Murray 2-2 at the line. Then, a Melendez turnover was followed by Iowa missing a three-pointer and getting two offensive rebounds and a three-pointer to tie the game.

The Illini cannot turn the ball over so nonchalantly when they have a lead, they cannot put teams on the line to draw closer with the clock stopped and while the Illini dominated the boards, two offensive rebounds on one possession were proven to be deadly when the loss was only by two points.

 Heat Check #3 – Despite Bad Moments, The Illini Lost on the Road by 2 Points

The time is not now to burn down the house. The team is frustratingly close to being in second place in the conference standings. The team is capable of fantastic defense. They shot block very well. They rebound very well. They are excellent in the open court. What they’re not is a great shooting team. They can get hot upon occasion, but they’re going to outshoot many teams.

What does this mean?

  1. The team needs to value the ball more. Possessions without a shot (usually due to a turnover or against Northwestern or Iowa due to a foul) cannot happen. This team doesn’t shoot well enough to allow 15 to 25 percent of their possessions to end without a chance of scoring. Embrace the fact that turnovers can’t happen. Lack of turnovers has to be admired as much as the ability to play tough defense.
  2. The team needs to play defense for both halves. They’ve got to maintain an intensity on defense. The odds are if they're hot, they're not going to stay hot, but they can stay tough on defense - home or away. And the Illini need to do it intelligently without using two hands that get fouls called. Mayer can’t get a reach or two called early in the first half that will keep him off the court for long stretches of time. Rodgers needs to realize that he doesn’t have to block the shot, just keep himself between the basket and his man. Harris doesn’t need to make a miraculous play on every shot attempt. Play within yourself but push hard at the defensive end.
  3. Focus on free throw shooting when practice is over. There’s plenty of time to move the needle on this skill. Iowa demonstrated with cold-hearted efficiency what it means to beat your opponent at the free throw line. Embrace that lesson. The Illini will probably not get 25 free throw attempts in a half, but if they get 10, they need to make 8 to 10 of them. Not four to six.

This team is so close to becoming what Coach Underwood wanted them to be. Will they make it there? They can. College sports is all about the journey to keep improving, just ask last year's North Carolina team. Stay tuned, it promises to be an interesting ride.


May 17 Weekend (S3,Ep40)


Illini Legend David Williams & His Charity Golf Outing on June 8 #361


Huge Portal Kombat Win for Bret Bielema #360


May 10 Weekend (S3,Ep39)


Illini Baseball is Heating Up #359


Illini Add Euro Big #358


Ked's Recruiting Roundup - Interview with Ben Humrichous


May 3 Weekend (S3,Ep38)


Portal Kombat - Big Ben Commits & Portals Are Wild #357


NFL Draft Recap & Portal Kombat (Men & Women) #356


April 26 Weekend (S3,37)


Orlando is Back! #355


Illini Football Spring Game #354


April 19 Weekend (S3,36)


Portal Kombat - Rough Day for the Illini #353