EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: In the 2000 Big Ten opener, Ohio State left the Assembly Hall a frustrated loser thanks to Frank Williams' buzzer-beater.
Date: Jan. 7, 2000
Headline: A shot to remembert
By JEFF D'ALESSIO
CHAMPAIGN – Given their current state of health, an all-out team pile-on on the hard Assembly Hall floor was probably the last thing Lon Kruger's Illini needed Thursday night.
But a shot like the one Frank Williams hit to beat Ohio State deserves a celebration like the one fans and teammates threw in his honor.
"It's a great feeling, but that was painful," said Williams, who was mobbed by the masses at midcourt. "Everyone was jumping on top. I was the one on the floor."
In a shot sure to go down with Andy Kaufmann's against Iowa and Eddie Johnson's against Michigan State as fans' favorites, Williams buried a 23-footer at the buzzer to beat the 13th-ranked Buckeyes 80-77 with the college basketball world watching on ESPN2.
Can anyone think of a better way to tip off the Big Ten season?
"This is one of those moments that you'll never forget," said teammate Robert Archibald, speaking for an Assembly Hall crowd of 15,841.
Williams certainly won't. Eleven games into his college career, Illinois' much-talked-about point guard had been put in that last-second make-or-break situation twice already.
Against Duke in Chicago, he put up a 25-footer with five seconds left and Illinois down three.
Against Maryland in Washington, D.C., he tried another bomb at the buzzer with Illinois trailing by two.
"I already had two strikes," Williams said. "Tonight, if I'd have missed that, that would have been my third strike."
The 19th-ranked Illini (9-3) needed Williams' heroics after blowing a 10-point lead in the last 5:47 against one of last year's Final Four teams.
The Illini missed nine in a row before Williams' winner, including a Williams jumper with 54 seconds left and Illinois clinging to a 77-75 lead. The rebound trickled off Ohio State's Michael Redd and landed out of bounds, giving Illinois another shot.
They set up a good one with 22 seconds left, Cory Bradford finding Marcus Griffin all alone beneath the basket.
"Cory Bradford made a great pass and he was wide open to go up and dunk it," Ohio State All-American Scoonie Penn said. "(Griffin) just lost it out of bounds."
The uncharacteristic blunder by the Big Ten's Co-Player of the Week gave the Buckeyes (8-3) another chance, which they immediately took advantage of. They went inside to George Reese (career-high 24 points), who missed a short shot that teammate Brian Brown rebounded and put back in with five seconds left to tie it at 77.
"We had no timeouts," said Cory Bradford, who led Illinois with 20 points. "So our strategy was if they score, just get it and go."
Oh, and one more thing.
"Everybody knew: Get the ball to Frank," Illinois forward Cleotis Brown said.
Williams caught the inbounds pass with less than five seconds left and took off, waiting for a Buckeye defender to step in front of him and try to stop him.
Uh, anytime now, guys.
"I was just a little disappointed at the end that we weren't able to find Williams a little quicker," Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien said. "But in situations like that, it gets a little chaotic."
That's one word to describe the scene afterward. Williams' three-pointer, which he knew was good from the moment it left his hands, set off the kind of roar that hasn't been heard at the Assembly Hall in awhile.
It also was a shot in the arm for Williams, who had a rocky first few months as an Illini, missing shots and classes, getting benched and blasted on TV.
"This shot gives me great confidence," said Williams, who finished with 13 points and seven assists in his matchup with one of America's premier backcourts. "If I would have missed that shot, I would have been feeling down tonight and gone into Saturday's game (against Wisconsin) still feeling down because that would have been the third time I let my team down."
A miss would have meant overtime, which the banged-up Illini wanted to avoid at all costs. After falling behind 42-35, the Buckeyes were the better team in the second half. They made 49 percent of their shots, kept Griffin from getting going (seven points) and dumped it down to the unstoppable Reese (18 second-half points).
"They were getting more momentum," said Brown, who added 17 for Illinois. "I thought they probably would have put us away in overtime, so I really didn't want overtime."