Column: Good morning

By Ian Gold

Daniel Brown knows that one day he will no longer play for the University of Illinois. Eventually fans will find a new jersey to wear to games, and the high socks and headband will become a fond but distant memory.

What I respect most about Dee is that he realizes he won’t be the mayor of Champaign forever, but is still intent on leaving a legacy that Illini teams can pass down and live by. That legacy, as established in his four years, is to fight for everything. With the lights turning out against Arizona in last year’s Elite Eight, the Illini did all that was within their power and fought. On Tuesday night, Illinois did all that was in its power and fought. That’s what is so disappointing about the 65-66 home loss to Penn State. Sixteen thousand people saw it coming, but the only people who could change the outcome didn’t.

Illinois was able to outclass the Nittany Lions early and build a 16-point lead. Your ranking tells you that the blowout is on, your 33-game home-winning streak tells you it’s got your back and the “experts” penciling you in all week to a No. 1 seed in the tournament make you believe Penn State will eventually leave the court with its tails between its legs.

“It’s an attention getter, you realize anything can happen,” Bruce Weber said.

The amazing thing about last year’s team was that it had the moxy to ignore the hype. All year long its accolades made magazine covers and led off sports shows. But somehow it was able to ignore the talk and forge a mindset that made its magical run possible.

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While the inexperienced players on this year’s Illini team can no longer be considered virgin to these situations, they haven’t experienced the hype. It is very hard to keep hearing how good you are and not start to believe it. You start to see the orange glow coming off your teammates’ jerseys and figure, against Penn State, it should be enough. Obviously, it wasn’t.

Illinois still had a double digit lead early in the second half when Michelle Claxton, mother of Penn State star Geary, yelled to the Penn State squad, “They put their shorts on the same way you do.”

I wondered whether it was true or not. Could a team that has been beaten into submission for years actually have the fight and belief it could come into Assembly Hall and beat Illinois? I wondered if they actually did put their shorts on the same way? Illinois puts theirs on expecting a win. Does Penn State?

While Illinois’ sense of entitlement continued to grow stronger, Penn State continued to smell upset and showed the fight that Dee intends to leave with Illinois. The complacent Illinois offense didn’t work to get the ball inside and took 27 three-point shots. All the while, the defense, which had become the team’s calling card into making the top-10, hung back and allowed players that Weber wouldn’t dream of giving a scholarship to have wide open shots and get loose balls.

“We didn’t finish the job, didn’t play hard, didn’t play good, and they fought harder than us,” Brown said.

For Illini fans and Dee alike, having to admit that probably stings the most.

The beautiful thing about college basketball is that the entire season is a learning experience. One after the other you can chalk up wins and losses, moral victories and losses. Dee is a fighter, Weber is a fighter, but in this one it’s the rest of the team that has the lesson to learn. Weber called this one a wake-up call. All of Illini nation heard the bell Saturday night.

Ian Gold is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].