Jordan Hamilton scored 25, Tristan Thompson had 20 as Texas beat No. 13 Illinois 90-84 in overtime at Madison Square Garden to advance to the finals of the 2k Sports Classic. Inside, get game thoughts, a look at offense and defense and a look at the numbers.
Overall Game ThoughtsHuge win for Texas, no doubt about it. Illinois is going to have a lot of success in the Big Ten because of their talent and their style of play, and a win for the Longhorns will give them lots of credibility both inside and outside of the program. The fact that the win is on a neutral court will only make it that much stronger.As a unit, probably the number one thing that you take away from this game was the obvious team identity that Texas produced throughout the game. Huddling after calls, energy from the bench, running out to meet each other at timeouts, those types of intangibles are huge for a team that needs to establish comraderie. There were a number of times where Texas was on the ropes but came back with poise and maturity. Big things from Rick Barnes’s guys.Offense: Texas saw some reversion to many of the ball movement struggles that have plagued them in years past. Until Cory starts playing with better efficiency, that’s going to be a danger as the game moves on and teams tend to pack in the paint on Johnson, Thompson and Hamilton. Still, Texas did an excellent of not settling for bad looks. Even some of the forces were aggressive shots in the paint and not floating from the perimeter as last year would have seen. That’s a gigantic improvement for the Horns.The free throws pretty simply are what they are at this point, but hats off to Texas’s players for not allowing their free throw woes to keep them away from an aggressive style of play. Never did they seem to play hesitantly for fear of getting fouled. Forty-four attempts in forty-five minutes is unreal. Very mature for such a young team. In transition, Texas must commit to playing with better spacing. The lanes were far too narrow which made it much easier for the defenders to account for. That will get better, but the Longhorns left some points on the board.Plenty to work on for a Texas team that is still just scratching the surface of where they can be come March.Defense: After a first half filled with a lack of spatial awareness and defensive resilience, the Longhorns hunkered down and played inspired defense in the second half. In particular, Joseph and Balbay did a masterful job of not allowing McCamey, Richardson and Paul to become the creators that they were in the first half. Illinois was working with fools gold in the first half with three step back 26 footers. Only so many of those can fall.Down the stretch, Illini Coach Bruce Weber failed to make the adjustment of not having McCamey take the ball out on inbounds which allowed Balbay to keep square to him at all times disabling him from getting the ball. That was huge down the stretch as Demetri was unable to receive the ball just about anywhere on the floor. Just remarkably solid defense by Dogus; reminiscent, in many ways, of his work on OSU’s James Anderson last year.Thompson also played his best defense of the season and was phenomenal in help defense against an Illinois team that utilizes backdoor cuts effectively. His six blocks tripled his block output for the season so far. If he can continue to be a shot blocker/changer and avoid fouls, Texas will give people fits with their length and athleticism.A Look at the Numbers:Illinois shot 37.3% overall (28 – 75), 33.3% from three (10 – 30) and 66.6% on free throws (18 – 27)Texas shot 46.3% overall (31 – 67), 25% from three (3 – 12), and 56.8% on free throws (25 – 44)The teams tied the rebounding battle 37 – 37, while Texas won both the assist battle 15 – 10, and the turnover battle 10 – 12.The Endgame:There was plenty of reason to be impressed by both teams tonight as the level of play was excellent for this early in the season. The fact that this Texas team was able to come away with a victory against a senior laden Illinois team with a decidedly pro-Illini crowd speaks volumes to where they are, emotionally. That’s a special thing.No rest for the weary, however, as Texas has to be ready to play against a very good Pittsburgh team Friday at 6:00 pm. Texas had to leave NYC with at least a split and they have, at the least, accomplished that. Without looking past this victory, another win tomorrow would catapult this Texas team up the rankings and serve notice to the rest of the country that last year’s struggles are truly behind them.Excellent job by the Texas Longhorns.
Also see: Individual Player Reports