INDIANAPOLIS – Illinois coach Bruce Weber prefers not to use all three of his freshmen in unison.
D.J. Richardson is the lone one to start and sees plenty of minute every game. Tyler Griffey and Brandon Paul come in off the bench and are used where needed. At times, two of them have found the floor together. Rarely have all three. With all three having so many ups and downs, like most freshmen around the country, Weber can’t trust them together.
On Saturday, Weber went against his routine. With all three seemingly have good freshmen days, he rewarded them all with numerous minutes and even went with all three of them at once during the late minutes of the second half.
Illinois’ freshmen have been at times frustrating this season, but on Saturday they were the reason the Illini led 37-31 at halftime.
Griffey sank all three of his shot attempts, including a high-arcing 3-pointer with the shot clock winding in the half’s final minute, scored seven points, grabbed one rebound and passed out one assist. It was quite a difference from his recent past as he hadn’t scored in his past three games and hadn’t scored multiple baskets since scoring six points against Ohio State in February.
Richardson was especially feeling comfortable in the opening half. He put up a team-high 10 shot attempted, connected on four of them, including three 3-pointers, scored 11 points and had one steal. He also was the primary defender on Ohio State’s national of the player candidate Evan Turner and frustrated throughout the opening 20 minutes as he committed five turnovers.
Paul , as he always does, wasn’t afraid to get right in and start shooting. He made 1-of-4 shots and scored three points. But unlike previous games, he also distributed as he dished out four assists. It’s the most assists he’s had in a game since passing out five against Vanderbilt on Dec. 8. He also had three rebounds and drove twice strong the hole and was caused Ohio State fouls.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.