Griffey was one of four Illinois players to finish with 13 points
Nov. 25, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Tyler Griffey's first-half stat line was all but empty -- no points, no assists, no rebounds and little to show he'd been on the court as Illinois struggled to get a handle on underdog Gardner-Webb on Sunday.
But with 4.4 seconds left on the clock, the Illini turned to the senior forward and he came through, burying a long 3-pointer on a feed from Brandon Paul to pull out the win, 63-62.
Griffey and Illinois' other upperclassmen overcame a sluggish first half in which the Illini (7-0) shot 33 percent from the field.
"I give credit to Griffey," Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said. "We had two guys on Paul, I believe it was, and Griffey stepped up and did what upperclassmen do." Without much time to assess, Griffey said the shot was probably one of the biggest in his career.
"It's up there," Griffey said.
Griffey's 3 followed a banked-in 3-pointer from Tashan Newsome with 12 seconds left that gave the Runnin' Bulldogs a 62-60 lead.
Just four days after the Illini beat Butler to claim the Maui Invitational crown, it seemed like an entirely different Illinois team was on the court, and not just because of the cold shooting.
Gardner-Webb (4-4), which led all the way in winning at DePaul 71-59 on Nov. 15, was ready to play.
"We didn't have enough toughness mentally early," Illinois coach John Groce said. "They set the rules for the game."
Paul scored 20 or more points in each of the Illini's wins in Hawaii, and led the team with 20 in the championship game win over Butler on Wednesday.
On Sunday, Paul all but disappeared over the first 20 minutes. His free throw with 4 seconds left in the half was his only point before the break, though it did give Illinois a 24-23 lead. Paul was 0 for 4 from the field in the half.
Tracy Abrams, who solidly contributed in points and assists in Maui, was cold the entire night. The sophomore guard had four turnovers and two rebounds and barely saw time in the second half.
Bertrand, Adams' replacement, was a bright spot for Illinois and played consistently throughout the entire game. He added six rebounds and three assists.
"I thought he was the sharpest today at shoot-around and he played like it," Groce said. "If it wasn't for his energy off the bench there early it could have been ugly." Paul turned around midway in the second half where he nailed a layup, followed by a 3-pointer at 6:34, to give Illinois its largest lead of the game at 53-47.
The quiet crowd livened up with Paul's play, nearly erupting during the final minutes of action.
"We weren't playing too good so there was nothing much to cheer about," Bertrand said. "But they hung with us."
Donta Harper led the Bulldogs with 16 points. Newsome finished with 11.
Illinois finished the game at 44 percent from the field, but had 18 turnovers and allowed Gardner Webb 10 offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs committed 14 turnovers of their own in a game featuring 12 lead changes and eight ties.
Groce and Holtmann were teammates at Taylor University, and the Gardner-Webb coach was an assistant to Groce at Ohio University.
Groce said before the team left earlier this month for its four games in Hawaii -- the last three in the Maui meet -- that the Illini hadn't yet been tested, hadn't yet been "hit in the mouth" and had to respond.
After trailing big early and still beating Hawaii and finding a way to pull past Gardner-Webb on Sunday, Groce said his team has passed its early tests. "We've taken two haymakers now," he said. "Today obviously they popped us pretty good. We were pretty resilient today."
The Illini next face Georgia Tech on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Champaign.
Donta Harper led the Bulldogs with 16 points. Newsome finished with 11 points.