CHAMPAIGN – 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.
The Illini (7-0) overcame a first half in which they shot 33 percent from the field.
“I give credit to Griffey,” Gardner-Webb coach Chris Holtmann said. “We had two guys on Paul, and Griffey stepped up and did what upperclassmen do.”
Griffey said the shot was probably one of the biggest in his career.
“It’s up there,” Griffey said.
Sterling graduate Joseph Bertrand spelled a struggling Tracy Abrams, and he and Griffey were two of four Illini to score 13 points. Bertrand played consistently throughout the entire game, adding six rebounds, three steals and three assists.
“I thought he was the sharpest today at shoot-around and he played like it,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “If it wasn’t for his energy off the bench there early it could have been ugly.”
Griffey’s 3 followed a banked-in 3 from Tashan Newsome with 12 seconds left that gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 62-60 lead.
Just 4 days after the Illini beat Butler to claim the Maui Invitational crown, it seemed like an entirely different Illinois team was on the court.
Gardner-Webb (4-4), which led all the way in winning at DePaul 71-59 on Nov. 15, was ready to play.
“We weren’t playing too good, so there was nothing much to cheer about,” Bertrand said. “But they hung with us.”
“We’ve taken two haymakers now,” Groce said. “Today obviously they popped us pretty good. We were pretty resilient today.”