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I got up to leave press row about 15 minutes after the game ended. I first looked left and there was a big gaggle of Purdue fans blocking the aisle. So I went right but I was behind three Purdue fans (perhaps parents?) looking for someone. I'm never one to give the frustrated "EXCUSE ME", so I just kinda waited for them. Purdue had basically taken over the floor of our arena after the game, so who was I to say anything?
About five minutes before that, I had gotten up to take some photos of the two Purdue fans shooting hoops on the court (the Illini court) after the game. That's them in the photo up top. One guy in a "Big Dog" jersey and the other in a Purdue sweatshirt. I tweeted the video (looking at the timestamp, it doesn't look like the video sent until I got home any my phone grabbed the wifi), and someone pointed it out to the State Farm Center Twitter account, and they responded saying that the DIA sells that as a post-game experience. So we're selling the opportunity for Purdue fans to shoot hoops on our court after they beat us? Quality troll, Boilers.
Got home and saw this tweet from former Purdue player Brian Cardinal:
If you're unfamiliar with those seats (where he's taking the photo from), those are the seats where we put recruits and their families (including football recruits). And where friends and families of the Illini players sit. The "I called up the school and as a former player they gave me tickets to the game" section. Brian Cardinal is a former Purdue player, but his dad worked for Illinois for 45 years, so I'm guessing that's how Brian Cardinal got the chance to cheer for Purdue while sitting with Ty Rodgers and Ty Pence.
Purdue didn't really bring a ton of fans to this one. I remember Big Ten games with a much larger traveling contingent. So this wasn't some Purdue Invasion or something. It's just that the Purdue people who were there got to walk around like they owned the place. Shooting hoops on the court. "Boiler Up"-ing from the recruits & families section. Blocking both floor exits as I was trying to leave.
Which was pretty much how the game went. We've won 20 of 21 Big Ten games (well, 20 of 22 now), and yet somehow Purdue was the hunted and we were the hunters. If there was a vibe to this game, that was it.
I mean, just look at the officiating. (STOP. I don't mean that how you think I mean that. Deep breath. Read these words slowly, please). Purdue was the protected team today. There is always a protected team because there has to be. There's no such thing as an evenly-called basketball game (it's pretty much impossible) so there's always a default direction. It's usually the home team, and I've written many times about how we only won a game because we shot 34 free throws and the visitors shot 12. Today, the protected team was #4 Purdue. Everything that usually defaults in the home team's direction seemed to default in Purdue's direction. Edey and Williams were given some leeway, not Kofi.
Again, I don't really have a problem with games being called like that. I'm not a "those damn officials were paid off by Purdue" guy. I'm good with Michael Jordan getting calls that Craig Ehlo would not. I honestly think it's a fair way to go about it. Watch the Illinois-Rutgers game in the BTT last year and you'll see the scales tipped massively in Illinois' favor. Miles Johnson (who really bothered Kofi when Rutgers beat us three months prior) and Paul Mulcahey (who really bothered our guards in the same game) were both immediately in foul trouble. At first Steve Pikiell was all "refs, you're killing me" and then he seemed to resign to "yeah, I should have won more games in the regular season if I wanted to get all these 50/50 calls."
It's not "the refs are in Team A's pocket", at least not in my mind. It's not some intentional "we're going to call everything on those guys because we want these guys to win". It's just that one team's stars will be protected a little bit more than the other team's stars. It's very subtle. Charge/blocking calls usually tip one way during a game. I just see it as referees "managing" a game, being careful not to directly determine the outcome of a game. Fourth and fifth fouls are often hard to come by for star players.
And I'm mostly OK with that because it's never going to be even. It generally helps you at home and hurts you on the road (unless the home team is Nebraska and the road team is Michigan State). I mean, MSU is probably a great example. Ayo's broken nose at Michigan State would have been called a foul 100 times out of 100 in Champaign. In East Lansing, it was called a block and the ball out of bounds to Illinois (no foul was called until the Flagrant Two on video review).
But today, the entire vibe in the State Farm Center was that Purdue was The Hunted and we were The Hunters. I was so surprised to see that. Purdue was 16-15 in 2019-20 and then 18-10 last year with a first round Tournament loss to North Texas. We hadn't lost to them since February of 2019 (winning here and there since then) and had won 20 of 21, but today, I guess because Purdue had reached #1 earlier this year, it felt like most everything defaulted in their direction. Illinois never reaching the double bonus despite playing two overtimes (in a game where Purdue shot 32 free throws) was rather stunning - 30 minutes, nine fouls. I had this "we'll get the benefit of the doubt here; Purdue will get the benefit of the doubt on February 10th" feeling, but it didn't come true at all.
Read: it wasn't just the officiating. Kofi did foul out of this one, but BBV played some great defense and kept us in the game to the point where we forced two overtimes. I'm actually glad this game went to two overtimes because it kind of erased everything else and just made it a five (and then ten) minute game. Purdue made the shots (those two free layups on defensive breakdowns were killers), we didn't, ballgame.
My point is that this entire day felt like Purdue had swagger and we didn't. The crowd was amazing, but at times the play on the court felt like Purdue was the home team and we were the road team. I just didn't understand why that was the case.
Perhaps I've just read our own press clippings too much (wait, wouldn't I be writing those press clippings?). Maybe the whole "37-9 in the Big Ten starting with the Purdue game on January 5, 2020" thing went to my head. But I just don't understand why we were not the team being hunted. Like, here's the stats starting with that Purdue game on 1/5/20:
Illinois in Big Ten games since then: 37-9
Purdue in Big Ten games since then: 24-19
Someone explain why Matt Painter would answer a question like he's trying to compliment some plucky 10-8 basketball team:
Matt Painter: "This game could have gone either way... really like Illinois, they're going to be a hard out"— Bret Beherns (@WCIA3Bret) January 17, 2022
Am I making any sense here? Matt Painter is all "that's a nice little team you guys have here" and I'm all "uh, Matt, this is your first win over the nice little team in nearly three years and it took 7 of the first 15 whistles in the game being called on Kofi and Omar to get there". Just me? Probably just me. I get really, really bitter after losses.
It just feels like we should be claiming our spot and we're not. Zach Edey is getting the LeBron treatment from the refs, not Kofi. A former Purdue player asks for free tickets and we "sir yes sir here's some tickets right next to our recruits sir". I'm sitting there on press row after the game and I'm watching Purdue fans shooting postgame jumpers and I'm daydreaming about Deon Thomas leaving the Underwood radio interview, walking out on the court, grabbing the ball from them, and telling them to get the hell off our court. OUR court.
I don't know. Maybe we need more than just last year's one seed before we can expect to behave this way. Maybe 37-9 vs. 24-19 isn't enough of a sample size to expect that we'd walk into the SFC with all the swagger when playing Purdue. Maybe Loyola still hurts us here - I don't know.
But my main feeling today was that we ceded space that didn't need to be ceded. Even the meltdown at the end of the first half (the 17-0 Purdue run) felt like Purdue was playing with extreme confidence and we were playing scared (especially with Kofi in foul trouble). That moment where Mason Gillis hip-checked Da'Monte into next week left me wanting Da'Monte to actually retaliate next time down (even though a flagrant would have cost us). For whatever reason, I spent those 2.5 hours feeling like they were the bullies. With the refs being the vice principal who looked the other way just hoping for the end of the school day.
WE should be the hunted. WE were the team in solo first before today. They're the ones who lost to freaking Rutgers. I just hate that today felt like Illinois hunting Purdue when it should have been the other way around.
Do you think Indiana is allowing Purdue fans to have a shootaround on their floor after the game? Do you think Ohio State is giving Trey Burke free tickets in the Ohio State recruiting seats so he can tweet a pic and yell "GO BLUE"? I want the SFC to be the THISISOURHOUSE-iest college arena on the planet, and today, well, we did what I did when the Purdue fans were blocking my path to the exit.
Just kind of let them do whatever they wanted.