by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
"Know your enemies."
Or so the expression goes. Certainly, for all of our focus on Northwestern basketball, it never hurts to catch a glimpse of what is going on elsewhere in the Big Ten.
On Sunday night, in the midst of Illinois' rout of Northwestern, D.J. Richardson stood supreme. The senior guard notched 18 points and eight rebounds, knocking down two three-pointers while driving to the hoop with abandon.
Richardson actually has been a potent weapon all season long, averaging 12.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He was particularly good in the Fighting Illini's upset of the Hoosiers, knocking down four of eight from behind the arc as part of a 23-point performance.
For some, of course, Richardson has never quite met expectations. After all, he was the 46th ranked player in his class, according to ESPN. He was also the recipient of a "93" grade from the network and schools like Kentucky, Indiana and Florida had Richardson on their radar.
For some, he'll always be associated with the Fighting Illini squad that got Bruce Weber fired and failed to meet high expectations. Some will struggle to see past Richardson's low clip from the field, which has fallen just under 39 percent in each of the past two seasons.
Richardson, for his part, could care less.
"I'm just playing basketball and having fun," Richardson said. "People say a lot about me. I really don't care. I'm just playing basketball and doing what I have to do for our team to win."
Many think of Richardson as a streaky three-point shooter — with good reason. Of the 10.7 shots he chucks up per game, 7.1 have come from behind the arc. On Sunday night, though, he reminded everyone just how devastating he can be driving to the basket. While he hit just two-of-seven from behind the arc, he was six-of-eight inside the three-point line, as he hit a wide variety of bank shots and runners over a sagging Northwestern defense.
First, he was grabbing a defensive rebound and running alongside Tracy Abrams all the way to the hoop to give Illinois a 12-5 lead with a layup. Then, he was finishing another fast break to put the Fighting Illini up 39-15. Then, Richardson was there with a pretty one-handed finish to put Illinois up 45-15. Not bad for a three-point shooter.
One man in the arena wasn't surprised, however.
"I was just taking what the defense gave me," Richardson said. "People try to play me as a three-point shooter, but I just play my all-around game. I was a slasher when I was younger and I'm trying to get back to that and just be a versatile player and not be one dimensional."
As part of being a multi dimensional player, Richardson has also become very lethal on the defensive end, according to coach John Groce.
"He's playing at a really high level right now," Groce said. "I still think people don't understand how good he is on defense. He's unbelievable. He's in the right position a lot. He knows when to help, when not to help. He knows how to guard just about everything you throw at him. He's a great defender. Everybody sees the 18 and 8 and obviously that's great. We need that too. You put together what he's doing at both ends right now and he's playing at a really high level."
As for whether or not he was inspired playing against in-state rival Northwestern, which defeated Illinois on its home court earlier this season, 68-54, RIchardson gave a politically correct answer.
"There are two good teams in our state, no question," Richardson said. "We treated this game like everyone else. We wasn't trying to get swept. It's not part of our system."
Richardson and his Fighting Illini will next take on Penn State in Champaign, facing off against another team that has been ravaged by injuries but has fought valiantly all season long.
Sunday night capped off a four-year relationship between Northwestern and D.J. Richardson. Traditionally, the Wildcats have handled the Peoria native with ease. Not so on Sunday night.
2/17/13 — 18 points, 8 rebounds, 8-15 FG, 2-7 3-Point
1/17/13 — 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2-9 FG, 1-6 3-Point
2/5/12 — 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3-9 FG, 3-6 3-Point
1/4/12 — 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3-7 FG, 2-4 3-Point
2/5/11 — 7 points, 2 rebounds, 3-6 FG, 1-2 3-Point
1/6/11 — 10 points, 1 rebound, 4-7 FG, 2-4 3-Point
12/30 — 17 points, 5 rebounds, 7-12 FG, 2-6 3-Point
1/23/09 — 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3-9 FG, 1-5 3-Point