I remember covering an Illini basketball game at Purdue back when Chester Frazier was the point guard.
Chester was a terrific defender and as tough a kid as you’ll ever see. But there was a period when he couldn’t make a shot to save his life. So against the Boilermakers on this night, they simply chose not to guard him.
They left him open – wide open -- daring him to shoot. There’s a matter of pride when the other team begs you to try an unguarded 14-footer. And so Chester would pull the trigger. And he missed. And the crowd laughed. It was painful to watch.
Finally, Chester started knocking down an occasional shot, enough to make teams defend him.
But on Sunday night, I saw Nebraska give Jaylon Tate the “Chester treatment.” They didn’t guard him, which allowed his man to become an extra defender in Nebraska’s decision to clog the lane.
In essence, Nebraska dared the entire Illini team to shoot over them and to beat them with jump shots and on Sunday, Illinois delivered a Chester-like shooting performance.
Illinois made 15 of 55 shots (27.3 percent) and 6 of 29 3-pointers, not nearly enough to win on the road. Nebraska won the game, 53-43.
It was a rough night for nearly every one of the Illini shooters. Malcolm Hill, coming off his 28-point effort against Maryland, was 4 of 15 and scored 12 points. Nnanna Egwu scored two points but had 10 rebounds. Jaylon Tate finished with 3 points, 1 assist and no rebounds.
What a difference that was from the Maryland game when Hill had 28, Egwu had 11 and Tate had 10.
And throw in 1-for-7 from Ahmad Starks (all 3s) and 2-for-7 from Cosby and you have an offensive disaster.
In a game like that, where every possession is so valuable, there are two things you can’t afford. One is a turnover. The other is a rushed or ill-advised shot, which is basically the same as a turnover. And Illinois had too many of those wasted possessions in this one.
The most bothersome is the ill-advised shot and I honestly wish John Groce would immediately pull any shooter than seems to ignore the responsibility he has to the rest of the team. Those shots are not only a wasted possession. Those shots are a morale killer and they shouldn’t be tolerated.
You’d be on the bench not because you missed a shot, but because you failed to consider how important every possession is for the rest of the team.
So it’s on to Northwestern, which earlier on Sunday took Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing. It won’t be easy and once again, every possession will be important.