HONOLULU — D.J. Richardson drained a three-pointer at the overtime buzzer, capping a comeback from a 16-point second-half deficit and giving Illinois a wild 78-77 victory over Hawaii on Friday night.
The back-and-forth game did not wrap up until after 2 a.m. C-U time.
"That's how Coach set it up," Richardson said. "Tracy found me in the corner and I knocked down the shot."
The win gives John Groce's Illini momentum heading into the second part of their Hawaiian adventure: Monday's Maui Invitational. They open with another late-night affair: 11 p.m. against USC.
At least that one's on TV. The Illini's first three games weren't televised - and Friday's thriller might go down as one of the best games Illinois fans never saw.
Richardson's buzzer-beater - which was reviewed by game officials - followed one by Hawaii's Vander Joaquim, who hit a jumper at the end of regulation to force overtime. Before that, Brandon Paul's basket with 2:08 to play had given the Illini (3-0) their first lead of the game.
The teams traded baskets in the extra session before Jace Tavita made one of two free throws to give the Warriors (3-1) a 77-75 lead with 7 seconds left and set the scene for Richardson, who finished with 16 points.
Paul scored 25 points, including five three-pointers, for Illinois, and Tracy Abrams added 22. Richardson, Paul and Abrams combined for 63 of the team's 78 points.
"Our three perimeters were terrific," Groce said. "All three of them stepped up big."
Abrams assisted on Richardson's dagger in front of the Illinois bench. He had five steals and three assists.
"Tracy was locked in," Groce said. "He maybe played the most complete game on both ends of the floor."
The Illini closed with a 9-3 run in overtime to win it.
"We showed big heart tonight," Richardson said. "We fought back. They went on a run, we went on a run."
Said Groce: "I thought the kids showed great resolve."
The Illini improved to 7-0 against Hawaii. Somehow.
The Illini made just two of their first 14 shot attempts and shot 30 percent in the first half as Hawaii took a 41-28 lead at break.
"We got away with one," Groce said.
But the Rainbows had their own problems: turnovers (16) and poor free throw shooting (17 of 31).
It was an emotional night for the Illini, who dedicated the game to radio analyst Jerry Hester, whose father passed away Friday. Hester worked the game nonetheless opposite Steve Kelly.
It was only fitting Richardson, like Hester a Peoria product who went on to put up big numbers at Illinois, sank the game-winner.
"My dad would want me to be here," Hester said. "I think he willed that shot in.
"An unbelievable end to this basketball game. So many swings." Groce hugged Hester afterward and became emotional in the postgame radio segment. "I told him his dad would have been proud," Groce said.
It was Hawaii which landed the early punches, outplaying Illinois from the opening tip.
"They popped us in the mouth first," Groce said.
Joaquim led the Warriors with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Brandon Spearman - a Chicago product out to prove something against many of his former AAU teammates - added 20 points and nine boards.
But Illinois kept its perfect season going.
"They kept swinging and swinging," Groce said. "At the end, we made enough plays to win it."
Illini players took to Twitter after the game. This from Paul: "Thanks 2 the fans out here that watched, & the ones at home who sacrificed their sleep 2 watch us pull 1 out!" This from Richardson: "Amazing game!!!!!!!! Thanks to the man above....." ILLINOIS (3-0)
Richardson 5-14 2-2 16, Paul 7-14 6-8 25, Abrams 9-16 2-6 22, Egwu 2-7 0-0 4, Griffey 1-5 0-0 2, McLaurin 2-3 1-2 5, Bertrand 1-3 0-0 2, LaTulip 0-0 2-2 2, Shaw 0-1 0-0 0, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Langford 0-0 0-0 0, Djimde 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 13-20 78.
Tavita 1-2 1-3 3, Joaquim 8-15 4-9 22, Brereton 3-11 3-4 10, Spearman 7-14 4-6 20, Standhardinger 4-15 3-5 12, Jefferson 0-2 1-2 1, Rozitis 2-3 0-0 4, Clair 0-0 0-0 0, Fotu 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 27-66 17-31 77.
Halftime_Hawaii 41-28. End Of Regulation_Tied 66. 3-Point Goals_Illinois 11-31 (Paul 5-10, Richardson 4-12, Abrams 2-4, Egwu 0-1, Griffey 0-4), Hawaii 6-14 (Joaquim 2-2, Spearman 2-3, Standhardinger 1-1, Brereton 1-5, Tavita 0-1, Jefferson 0-2). Fouled Out_Egwu. Rebounds_Illinois 31 (Richardson 6), Hawaii 51 (Joaquim 11). Assists_Illinois 8 (Abrams 3), Hawaii 14 (Tavita 7). Total Fouls_Illinois 26, Hawaii 17. A_7,550.