I felt pretty good about this game coming into tonight. If I were a Black-Eyed Peas fan, I would say that I had a feeling that tonight was going to be a good night. But I'm not - I hate that group and all their commercial poppy, Top-40, mind-numbing ways. I was a KZSU DJ - 408's Finest, son!
Failed music reference aside, I really liked Stanford's chances against the Jumpin' Jankoviches. I mean, after all, there was no way in hell these dudes could shoot 74 percent from three again, right? As long as Stanford could hit their open perimeter jumpers and limit Illinois State's second chances, this should be cinch. Win and a Wednesday 6pm tussle with Trent's favorite WAC school would be on tap for the second-best Elite Eight.
Through the first three minutes of the game, you could tell Johnny Dawkins must have said to his team, "whatever you do out there, don't let these motherf'ers shoot threes!" Mann was chasing Tyler Brown off the three; Nic Moore couldn't get any looks. So far, so good.
"Hey, Illinois State hasn't shot a three yet!" I said to David Lombardi on my right and former Stanford walk-on and Kevo-underling Chris Ebersole on my left. Of course, five seconds later, Jon Ekey released from deep. But at least it wasn't Moore or Brown, and Ekey clanked it.
But Stanford was matching Illinois State very early on in offensive inefficiency. The Cardinal were getting very good looks - a Zimmermann open right wing jumper, a Chasson Randle layup, an Anthony Brown drive to the paint for a six-footer - yet nothing would go down.
These early jitters were just that, however, and it didn't even take until the first mandatory for these teams to heat up. Nic Moore missed on the next time down for Illinois State after Ekey's miscue, but Jackie Carmichael was there to corral the carom, and Tyler Brown made sure the Cardinal paid in full for their defensive rebounding sin of not keeping a guy who averages almost ten boards off the glass. That's the Illinois State team I know!
That lead was short-lived, however. Aaron Bright responded immediately with a trey of his own, and it wouldn't be his last. After the mandatory, Owens showed off that spin move off his right shoulder against Carmichael - that's 1,000! Well, actually 1,001.
"Hey, I want 1,000 too!" Carmichael retorted, getting to the line for Illinois State's next points and then needing another 14 for quadruple digits. You'll get there, kid, yours will come in due time.
The pace was picking up, and so was the swag. Aaron Bright has a lot of it; put it on display with a no-look dime to Josh Huestis- slam. Jarrett Mann got jealous, threw a no-looker of his own down to Dwight Powell for another dunk. Aaron Bright was back at it again, bringing it up court to get his Card into the off - uh, check that - I mean, bring it up court to give Bryant Allen a little shimmy before drilling a three in his face. 20-14 Farm.
Stanford got up six a couple of times in the first half and were looking like they might be able to pull away. But if you thought Stanford was going to blow Illinois State out of the water (like I did), you were in for a rude awakening. That's because the fearless backcourt of Tyler and Nic were just starting to lick their chops. Brown steal and layup - down to four. Moore three (off a Wilkins offensive rebound) - down to one. Brown comes down, uses a screen at the top of the key - just enough space to release and tie this bad mamma-jamma up.
Unfortunately for the Farm Boys, the three-point barrage was only beginning. The next bomb dropped by Tyler the Creator was so deep and high-arcing it might as well have been mortar fired out of a tank. Just like that, the Redbirds were up.
"You should write that it's like an artillery war!" Cardinal Channel shooter and editor Mike Johnstone said to me at half. But I'm getting ahead of myself…
Crazy enough, whatever Illinois State could do, Stanford could actually do it better. The Rock Island Rookie went deep for a quarter of his first-half 12. Even Josh Huestis got in on the action, hitting a much-needed trey to put Stanford back on top. Sprinkled in between was a display of what Dwight Powell could be if he was 100 percent healthy and played with an aggressive attitude every game- one of the niftiest lefty finger-rolls you'll ever see; Jon Ekey the victim.
Which brings us to the final play of the half, and in stepped a man who didn't make the Kevo scouting report for Tyler Brown to assure he didn't pick up a cheap second foul - Johnny Hill, a 6'3 freshman out of Glendale Heights, IL (without knowing off the top of my head, it sure as hell sounds like a suburb of Chicago - I'll guess northwest).
So play resumed and out came Illinois State in the 2-3, much like they did at the end of the half against Ole Miss. But you know what that means - the three will be there. Aaron Bright found his way over to the left wing with two guys giving chase: Bryant Allen from the wing and Johnny Hill from the baseline. They had him pretty well covered, too, but not enough, as Aaron caught the pass deep on the left wing. The dude didn't even get squared to the basket and still had a few seconds to work with before inexplicably hurling one up towards the hoop -I guess it's a little more explicable when you're 3-3 from beyond the arc, and absolutely nail the awkward J to give your squad a three-point halftime lead.
I rushed to the media room to check the halftime stats - 14 combined threes (Stanford 70 percent from beyond the arc!), six Illinois State offensive rebounds leading to 13 second chance points (a couple of those OREBs directly led to open threes compared to one and zero in the respective categories for the Card. Stanford's bench shutting out the Redbirds' 25-0. Normally, if the opponent shot 7-15 from deep in a half, I would feel pretty good that they would cool down in the second half. But this was Illinois State, and compared to last Wednesday, they were ice cold.
And the second half got underway some 15 minutes later, Illinois State put my fears to rest and assured me that yes, Kevo, that near-50 percent of a first half was an aberration on the off-side. Stanford had pushed the lead to seven thanks to a Josh Owens and-1 (did Chasson not get fouled on the elbow that led to Owens' offensive rebound?), but then Carmichael cut into the lead with a deep two. And then Moore took over. The freshman guard got a screen at the top of the key, forced the switch to get Owens on him, swish. On the run at the top next time - catch-and-shoot over Randle, who barely had any time to react. So much for that three-possession lead.
So much for the lead, period. Carmichael drew three white jerseys on the left block- someone was open. That somebody was Tyler Brown (Randle was sucked in) and he did what Tyler Brown does best off a Jackie Carmichael feed, and that's give Jackie Carmichael an assist with a rim-rattler of a three. Illinois State was up a deuce. Make it a cuatro after an Anthony Brown split-job at the line (get used to that for the rest of the half, ugh), with Tyler B on the ones and twos, running baseline and catching and releasing all in one motion. Make it seven, as Jon Ekey was wide open in transition off a Stanford turnover.
Timeout. God knows Stanford needed it.
The three-point shooting would then take a little reprieve, as the next installment of UFC 238 or whatever the hell number they are at now turned out to be Jackie Carmichael vs. Dwight Powell. Carmichael got a couple of free throws to push the lead even further out to nine. Dwight wasn't bothered, though, just took 32 into the paint and muscled one up over JC, who was starting to play as divinely as his initials-sake. He lived up to the hype as much as humanly possible, going to his patented fade away on the left block over D-Peezy, bringing him to within three points of a grand for his career. Powell wanted some revenge, playing the role of Pontius Pilate next time down and condemning Jackie for not fighting through a screen hard enough and letting him drill an 18-footer. He hadn't had enough, either, stealing a pass intended for Carmichael on the block, then coming down after the media timeout and utilizing a beautiful spin move to free himself away from the Redbirds' double-double man to cut the lead to five. Forget the guards, I wanna see these two Duke it out!
"This is where Stanford needs to make their stand, on the defensive end," Mark Adams said as I watched the replay on ESPN3 the next day. Down 65-60, Stanford was locked in defensively, everyone hounding their man, forcing a miss by Bryant Allen…Gotta get the miss though. Stanford was too focused on forcing the miss and nobody was in a position to board. Like Illinois State had done so well in the first half, they made the Cardinal pay in the form of an Ekey three. After Jarrett Mann missed a couple of freebies (…), Frenchy Wilkins drove to the hoop and damn near lost the ball.
But that's because he had drawn in extra defenders to hack away at him. This left Bryant Allen wide open, and the Redbirds were up 11 after the Minnesota transfer splashed in the corner trey.
In a game like this, however, 11 didn't seem like much. Especially when Aaron Bright was as on fire as he was. Hitting a three on the break, then pulling up on the right wing. Down to five in the blink of an eye (well, after Zimmermann missed a couple of free throws, drew a charge, and Owens nicely saved a rebound).
Turns out Carmichael v. Powell was the undercard; Moore v. Bright was the night's Cena vs. The Rock (this was something we knew for quite some time already). Screen at the top of the key for Moore…again. Big man (Z) gets switched out to Moore…again. Moore drills three over big man…again.
"It's your turn, Bright!"
Aaron must have heard Mark Adams, continuing along in his "F you, pay me" mode. Gets past Bryant Allen with the crossover, encounters Zeke Upshaw on his way to the hoop - here's the rock, Zeke. Now you see it, now you don't!
"OH!" Adams said, gleefully cutting off Roxy Bernstein. If this were an And-1 game, the crowd would have rushed the court like the college basketball blog after that move.
Defensively, Stanford was picking up well beyond half court. Illinois State was 15-24 from beyond the arc at the time, and Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle weren't going to let Moore and Brown get off any longer. Bright hounded Moore along the perimeter, and Moore had to give it up. Brown had it, couldn't get Randle off him and couldn't keep control of the rock, either. Randle was off, ahead to Bright, he finds the trailer Owens in transition and it's a three point game! There might have only been 1,781 in attendance, but Maples was as loud as it has been since the NC State game back in December.
Jankovich needed a timeout now; had to calm his kids down. Didn't work as the duo of Bright and Randle forced another TO, as Moore threw a wayward bounce pass to Brown. Bright had Allen on him again on offense, and again, murdered Devoe Joseph's ex-teammate with a hesitation dribble and finger-roll.
With the game on the line, the defenses started to pick up on both sides, but more noticeably for the Card. Not only were they picking up full court, they were helping terrifically. Or should I say Dwight Powell was helping terrifically. Moore wasn't getting his looks from deep anymore, so he thought it might be best to go inside - nope. Powell was there to send him away. Carmichael crashed the glass and also into Josh Huestis. The latter crashing got noticed more by the zebras, and the over-the-back call incensed David Moseley to rise to his feet underneath the basket. After Huestis threw a 7-10 splitter down the lane, we were all tied up at 74.
Carmichael wasn't finished with his aggressive play. Now just one tally away from 1,000, he had to have that extra field goal or free throw. Perhaps he wanted it too much, as he was met by Dwight Powell two possessions in a row in the paint for two offensive fouls (that second one looked like Dwight turned into Carmichael but whatever, I'll take the high-major call). Help-side D, baby!
Stanford couldn't capitalize though. The looks were there- Huestis wide open, Randle creating space from eight feet, Powell wide open on the right baseline - but like the first three minutes of the game, nothing was falling.
Illinois State would eventually take the lead back thanks to Carmichael free throws (there's 1,000 and 1,001, finally!) and would get the ball back up a deuce. Moore was looking to get back on track, and had the switch he wanted- Dwight Powell on him. But Dwight wasn't giving up the three and forced him to go baseline, forcing the D to collapse. Uh-oh, this was going to lead to another wide open look…
…But Owens gets a hand on it! Tips it up! Up for grabs - who gets there first- Chasson or Tyler? Chasson does! Tyler crashes into him, and Randle is shooting free throws!
Oh, the bane of the Cardinal existence. Free throws. This was Chasson Randle, though, surely he wouldn't…
Yes, he would. But it's Owens again! This time skying above everyone to snatch the miss at its peak. He gave it right back to Chasson on the right baseline. A three-point attempt off an offensive rebound off a missed free throw coming from one of the clutchest guys on the Stanford team - did you really think he was going to miss?
Not a chance. Stanford had a lead for the first time since 51-50 in a game that was making everyone in attendance go 51-50.
Illinois State would tie it up with a couple of freebies, taking a lot more advantage of their charity stripe attempts than the Cardinal. After an Anthony Brown miss with under a minute to go (a great look from the top of the key), Illinois State was in the driver's seat, and Tyler Brown was looking to drive. He did just that, getting to the hoop and separating himself from Randle just enough to get off a good look at a layup, which he made.
And it would have counted had he stayed in bounds (Jankovich thought he was helped out; I think Jankovich was snorting some pure Bolivian coke on that one). Huge break for the Cardinal, and the Farm Boys would have a chance to end this one in regulation.
You knew who was getting the ball in this situation after the game Aaron Bright had been having. He waited ‘til eight ticks showed, used the Owens screen, got the switch with Carmichael on him and drove - pitches it out to Randle for the threeeeeeee….iron unkind. Overtime for the second time this season. Very good look out of the timeout; just didn't go.
The opening possession of overtime set a tone that Jankovich was not too happy with. Bright missed a right wing three and Illinois State got the rebound, but Anthony Cousin was called for a foul for essentially blocking out Anthony Brown. Jankovich was livid.
"That's a block out!" The Redbird head honcho yelled over and over again. "He's blocking out! That's what we coach them to do, and that's what Stanford is coaching their guys to do too!"
"I understand, now chill the f*** out." According to David Lombardi, that was actually the ref's retort to Jankovich.
As in regulation, Brown split the freebies. Moore got fouled next time down and, of course, hit both of his free throws.
And so commenced the see-saw battle in OT, as Aaron Bright came down the next possession and hit a pseudo sky-hook over Jon Ekey cutting through the lane. Was there anything this kid COULDN'T do on this night?
All of a sudden, these threes weren't falling for Illinois State. Ekey had as wide open of a look as he had all game, but front-rimmed it. Moore's next trey attempt wasn't as open, two sets of hands in his face, and he missed. But oh those offensive rebounds. Stanford only cleared about two-thirds of the Redbird misses (all told, that's about what an average rebounding team does), and this possession happened to be one of the one-thirds. Carmichael again. Fade away again. Illinois State on top again.
Not for long, as the Dwight Powell mid-range sesh continued with an 18-footer in front of the arc on the right wing. I've been telling people in my mind all season that Powell can hit that shot, and he made me an imaginary Nostradamus on Monday night.
"I've proved myself to the Booties that I can knock down the open jumper, it's time to go down low again," Powell said on the next possession, because in the heat of the game, it's only logical he would think about what a message board that he probably doesn't even check has to say about him. Whether treetop11 and Jeff83's names were rolling through his mind or not, he did take Frenchy Wilkins down to the paint from the right wing off the drive - missed it, but turned all Kawika Shoji on everyone and volleyball set it back in the hoop over Carmichael and Frenchy.
However, that wasn't before Aaron Bright was gift-wrapped one of the most fortunate timeout calls in the history of timeout calls. The referee said to scorekeeper Kevin Chung immediately after the timeout call that Bright had both feet down when he asked for time. Tim Jankovich wasn't buying it, banging his fists on the scorer's table right in front of me. The referee must have heard Bright call for timeout, because the replay sure showed that he had one foot in the air when he made the signal. Oh how great it is to be a one-percenter at home in the college basketball world!
Where had Nic Moore gone? Oh, there he was! The three wasn't working as of late, so why not use the push shot on the run? Nic hit Stanford one Moore time with the runner that worked two-thirds as well. Quick response begets a quick response, though, and Chasson got Aaron's feed on the right wing, flicked that Rock Island wrist and held the pose because he knew it was going in. If he were the female lead from Love & Basketball, he would have had to keep his wrist up and stay frozen on the left wing. But this was no time for Johnny Dawkins to teach the young man a lesson that in reality isn't that big of a deal- there was a game to be won, and Chasson had just put Stanford back on top by two.
With an ISU miscue, Stanford had a chance to almost put this game on ice. Who do you think would have the ball in his hands? Bellevue's Brightest used probably the thousandth high ball screen set of the game to get the optimal switch. Now it was Carmichael having to guard the guard who was having the game of his life. Bright had been driving right for the vast majority of this game, but on this possession, he took the left-hand path. It goes without saying that he was quick enough to blow by Carmichael; almost too easy for his 29th point of the game. Stanford up four with less than 20 seconds to go.
Carmichael wasn't going to let his junior year come to a conclusion just yet, tip-dunking a rushed Moore miss. That means Stanford was going to have to ice this game at the free throw line- not a great proposition consider the Farm Boys were 10-19 from the charity stripe.
Out of the timeout, Dawkins drew up a great inbounds play that sprung Anthony Brown loose and allowed him to eat up a couple of ticks. Eventually, though, he was fouled, and he would have to make BOTH to put the game on ice. Stanford hadn't perfected a pair since the first half, and Anthony was one of those reasons.
Could he channel his inner-Fred Washington, who, though not the best free throw shooter by any stretch of the imagination, was able to sink both freebies to put the Card up four in the final seconds in an eventual 56-52 victory over the Arizona Wildcats back in January of 2008 to improve to 3-2 in the Pac-10 (this was the Shoegate game, where Jerryd Bayless played the second half in a pair of Stanford shoes given to him by yours truly. I'll cut myself off there)?
The answer was a resounding yes, as neither freebie left any sort of doubt (we all know he can be a lights-out shooter!). Illinois State was left to scramble down four with seven seconds to go, and that was just too much to overcome in too little time.
The Redbirds probably felt like they had been victimized in the mid-major's attempt to Occupy Maples by the officials on a couple of calls, but in the end, it was Stanford who made the bigger plays down the stretch and forced Illinois State into six consecutive misses from downtown to conclude the game. Regardless of how you felt about this team's performance in 2011-12, this was an effort worth remembering in one of the craziest games I have ever seen and Aaron Bright later said he has ever played in.
This was the kind of game that made you wonder how in the hell Illinois State only scored 47 against Fresno State in the season opener and, with the way Stanford and the Redbirds had been playing over the last few weeks, how they would do as 11 or 12-seeds in the Big Dance (don't get me wrong- I'm not saying either team should have made the NCAA tournament- neither deserved to go, neither was close to being deserving from an at-large perspective. But you think these teams could have fared better than a Cal or Virginia, eh?).
Now it's on to the NIT Quarterfinals for the Trent Johnson Cup. Will the Wolfpack be back to cause a mass destruction, or will the Farm Boys pack their bags for the Big Apple?
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