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Griffey’s shots finally dropping as Illini rise

(MCT) — Night after night, Tyler Griffey headed to the Illinois practice court, hoping each bucket would be an antidote to his slump.

Instead, it was futile and sometimes painful labor.

“I made 2,000 3s in 21/2 days,” the senior forward said. “I was shooting so much, I should have gone to the trainer. Tendinitis, carpal tunnel, whatever you want to call it, it was hurting.”

And there was no proof to show for the hours he was logging. The only byproducts were frustration and a cringe-worthy stat line.

He had gone 0-for-22 on three-pointers, muddling through eight games without a 3 and enduring a slump bad enough he requested some backup to come to town.

Finally Griffey’s shooting drought has become a flood of field goals that he hopes will continue Wednesday night at Assembly Hall against Purdue (12-12, 5-6 Big Ten).

The Illini (17-8, 4-7) appear to be back on track after losing seven of their first nine Big Ten games, having won the last two against ranked opponents. Griffey is largely to credit.

His buzzer-beating layup to defeat No. 1 Indiana on Thursday was a defining game for him and the Illini. In wins over the Hoosiers and at No. 18 Minnesota, Griffey shot 47.6 percent, made 6 of 13 3-pointers and totaled 30 points.

Illini coach John Groce likes to point out that Griffey’s defense has been even more instrumental than his offense and that his attitude never has bordered on woe-is-me. But Groce acknowledges that something clicked offensively.

“His mind,” Groce responded when asked the difference between Griffey then and now. “He’s really locked in. He’s really engaged.”

A 3-pointer that fell against the Hoosiers was a sign everything was paying off.

“Finally,” Griffey said he thought.

It has seemed like a long time coming for Griffey, who averaged just 1.8 points through the first nine Big Ten games. After a 1-for-6 performance that included missing all three 3-point attempts at Nebraska, he was out of answers.

He called his youth coach, Dave Sellers, who lives in the St. Louis suburbs and sometimes serves as Griffey’s on-call shot doctor.

“I told him I’ll drive over to Champaign, and we’ll figure it out quickly,” said Sellers, who coached Griffey from sixth through eighth grade. “It’s probably something small and trivial.”

Sellers noticed Griffey was turning his body slightly to the left while shooting. Once Griffey aligned his body properly, he made 20 straight shots, Sellers said.

“Once he turned straight, he’s just lethal,” Sellers said. “I’ve seen him hit 97 of 100 3s in a shooting session. I sure hope he got to where he can be. He looks like it. He has a bounce in his step.”

No coincidence, he has a shot that is falling.

“Slowly but surely I’m gaining more confidence,” Griffey said, “and it’s translated to the games.”

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