Column: Illini’s 45-point victory shows team’s potential

By Lucas Deal

I was done with this story. Completely finished, 600 words and nothing else needed – before the game was even over. I was going to get home early, probably before half of the fans. It was going to be awesome.

But then I looked up at the scoreboard.

And just like that, my early night disappeared.

That’s because when I looked up at the Assembly Hall jumbotron Monday night, I saw something I hadn’t seen in years.

I saw the number 35.

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Now normally, one statistic of a game doesn’t mean too much to me.

I’m a stats-obsessed sports fan, I’ll openly admit that, but it usually takes a whole bunch of numbers to throw me into a tizzy.

Not last night.

That’s because last night, when I saw that number 35 up on the scoreboard, it really meant something.

It wasn’t the time left in the game, it wasn’t a halftime score or a partial score from another game.

Nope, that 35 was Austin Peay’s total points … for the entire game.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a big yellow 80 lighting up under the word Illinois.

Early season games are supposed to be ugly, they’re supposed to be low scoring, they’re supposed to be filled with turnovers, but they’re never supposed to be that ugly.

Austin Peay scored 20 points in the first half, and that was their better half.

Monday night’s game was complete and utter domination, the most lopsided college basketball game I’ve ever witnessed first-hand (and I didn’t miss a home game two years ago).

And with the win, I realized, this Illinois team – this season – might not be such a letdown after all.

This team might actually be pretty damn good.

They’ve got some good shooters (even though both may miss games this week with an injury and a suspension), plenty of post players and a point-guard who refuses to accept anything less than the best.

The Big Ten has a pair of top-tier teams in Ohio State and Wisconsin, but the rest of the league is wide-open and a talented and focused team could easily make a run at the league crown.

The Illini have been saying that they’re going to be that team, and Monday night they showed it.

And I know what you pessimists out there are thinking, “This was Austin Peay, who is Austin Peay? Let’s see them do it against a real team.”

Well, guess what, that was a real team.

The last two games, the exhibition games, were supposed to be the tune-ups.

Those were supposed to be the weak teams.

But Austin Peay (0-2) wasn’t.

This was an official game, it counts in the standings and the Illini (1-0) took advantage.

And, lest we forget, Austin Peay has beaten us before.

In 1987, the little-known Governors of Austin Peay shocked the mighty Illini in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Illini beat the Governors by almost 40 the next year, but the tournament loss still counted.

It looks like the Illini still haven’t gotten over it.

Things might be different on Wednesday night against Jackson State, the Illini might play into triple overtime, but it won’t change what happened Monday night.

Nope, because on Monday night the Illini opened the 2006-2007 season like a team determined to win another Big Ten title.

And that’s something I’ll stay late for any day.

Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].