Tate: What a moment for seniors

Tate: What a moment for seniors

It was raining outside Thursday night and thunderous inside.

Hey, Texas Christian, step aside for Illinois. In a world of upsets — TCU, 0-8 in the Big 12, stunned Kansas on Wednesday — John Groce’s underdog battlers took their turn in the magic circle. In a whirlwind finish, the Illini arranged for a fifth No. 1 team to hit the wall.

Tyler Griffey’s game-winning layup felled Indiana, 74-72, and was greeted by an ear-splitting’ rush onto the court by a joyous Orange Krush. Enjoy yourself, gang. Triumphs of this nature don’t come around very often.

“Indiana is a great team ... I mean great,” Groce said. “They defend, they rebound, they run great stuff and they shoot. We are fortunate tonight. We’ve played some good games and lost. Tonight we played with toughness and togetherness, and I would have said the same thing if we had lost at the end.”

For 36 minutes, this had the look of a fifth consecutive home defeat, something that had never happened in the Assembly Hall. Indiana broke ahead before halftime (41-29) and carried a seemingly safe 69-59 lead into the last four minutes.

That’s when the rivers reversed their currents and the sun decided to come up in the west. That’s when four Illini seniors — gritty warriors throughout — turned the tide for what will remain one of the great Illini comebacks in Hall history.

Up to that point, dare we say, officiating calls seemed to fall in Indiana’s favor, with Nnanna Egwu fouling out on marginal whistles in 19 minutes. Up to that point, Illinois again permitted too many easy baskets as Indiana shot 50 percent (and hit 9 of 17 treys). Up to that point, the Hoosiers were in charge.

Reversal of fortune
Here’s what changed:

— The Illini got the late defensive stops that they didn’t get against Michigan and Michigan State, and they turned Indiana mistakes into points (Illinois outscored Indiana 8-0 on fast breaks and 28-16 on turnovers)

— Sam McLaurin’s goal kicked off a 15-3 finish with the four seniors garnering all 15. It wasn’t until D.J. Richardson connected on a corner trey at 70-65 that the crowd truly exploded. Then Brandon Paul stole the ball and DJR hit from the same spot, and cashed an even tougher 18-footer to tie it 70-70. Destiny had Paul’s cellphone number as, in a moment of excitement, he banked a free throw at :37 and tied it with another at 72-72. The joint was jumping.

— Indiana locked up late, producing just one field goal after Cody Zeller dunked at the 5-minute mark. When Indiana held for the last shot, Richardson swiped the ball from Victor Oladipo, who then blocked DJR’s runner at :00.9. There was just enough time to catch and shoot. With no timeouts, Indiana pressured the perimeter, and Griffey slipped inside for a layup on Paul’s in-bounds feed.

— The four seniors made 22 of 43 shots ... Griffey breaking his 0-for-22 slump on treys with two long ones ... and stepping up for his second game-winning shot of the 16-8 season (remember Gardner-Webb?).

Hanging tough
Groce appropriately praised the seniors.

“I’m proud of them,” he said. “We were always eight or 10 points down but we hung in, and we stayed within reach. Indiana shot 50 percent but we played better defense in the second half. We’ve been improving, but we’ve been playing outstanding teams, and sometimes our improvement doesn’t show.”

Much has been made of Paul, the Big Ten’s third-highest scorer (16-plus), not starting against Wisconsin. He was in the lineup Thursday, and started on a sour note. His first shot was blocked, and he had two air balls and a turnover, all in the first two minutes. But he was a force down the stretch, finishing with 21 points (DJR had 23) and attacking the Indiana defense.

The stunning upset brought Illinois back into the NCAA tournament picture. They now have four quality wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana, and only two hurtful losses to Purdue and Northwestern. With nine guaranteed games to go, it can still swing either way.

One point to remember: Illinois has played seven teams ranked in the Top 13, and beaten two of them. With strength of schedule so important, these particular losses aren’t hurtful insofar as the NCAA is concerned.

From the Indiana standpoint, this was considered a trap game. The Hoosiers were coming off three superlative efforts in defeating Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan — all brilliant performances — and have Ohio State coming up Sunday. The Hoosiers appeared vulnerable early but played well enough to carry a 10-point lead late, and then their brilliant offensive unit faltered ... just enough for the Illini to shock the world.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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peterborich wrote on February 08, 2013 at 1:02 am

What Loren?  Not the Best Basketball Victory In the History of the Program?   Thanks for the Restraint (Unlike After Last Year's Ohio State Home Win).   

Really, Really, Nice and Needed Win, But Indiana Was a Decent Match-up for Us On the Court (Unlike Some of the More Physical Teams in the Big Ten) and That Gave Us a Chance to Pull the Upset.  

Go Illini !!!

illini5fan wrote on February 08, 2013 at 7:02 am

Just an unbelievable game and such fun to be there. Extremely happy for Coach Groce et players. Great to see us play much better Defense et what a game for the seniors to shine! It is disappointing to note the many empty seats--"Really? Illini "fans?" " and to see all the seats scattered thruout filled with Indiana fans who bought tickets on ebay or scalped them....and these seats were everywhere from A sec to B to C. It's difficult to understand season ticket holders who would give up their tickets to see "their" team play one of our biggest rivals et the #1 ranked team to boot. Would love to see the students support the team more once again--i do understand their frustration at the seating placement for students though et hope that we can get that rectified soon. It does the team no good--adds no home court advantage when A section is filled with people who do not, will not stand et cheer(except for maybe a handful).  My one other frustration during the game was the officiating---thought once again, the zebras were going to keep us out of game but we fought thru. Come on, don't tell me that they cannot recognize when Zeller flops when he is barely touched by another player---he jerks like he had an electric shock. Have seen him do this before many times but he was really getting by with it last nite--it worked et he smiled so much easy to tell he was pleased with himself. Can't believe such a "great" player has to resort to those antics. Was happy to see the refs call a techical on # 0 (cannot spell his name at the moment). He has a major attitude problem et haven't seen anyone more obnoxious in the nation. If u watched the Indiana-Purdue game, u saw him in full action.

Bottom line----GREAT game for Illini nation et great to see fans stick around to celebrate!! Let's continue to be present and support our Illini!




TheChiefLives wrote on February 08, 2013 at 9:02 am

I watched Zeller all night when IU had the ball.  This guy fouled out in the first 6 minutes, but alas, the refs don't see it.  I have never seen anyone in the Big Ten move so much on screens and not get whistled.  He was almost tackling guys.  He knocked DJ to the floor on one, and the fans went nutzo, but no calls.

Then he takes an untouched flop on the other end, and WE get whistled?!  WTH?

It feels so good to take down a #1, especially when it against the pintsriped Whoosiers and their pinstriped refs!



Bwp 5P wrote on February 08, 2013 at 9:02 am

Agree completely about "A" section. All the empty seats....and like you noticed.......many of the seats that are filled.......don't appear to have enthusiastic fans in them. I observed several times when things tightened up that many of them just sat there....not even clapping!


We have to get the real fans down near the game!

TheChiefLives wrote on February 08, 2013 at 10:02 am

I call it "Z" section. 


Zombie Section.  I hope the new plans put all the high rollers in boxes and any student who wants can get close to the floor.

Moonpie wrote on February 08, 2013 at 8:02 am

A dandy win, for sure. But will they simply revert to form next game and get pounded?

Rivers reversing their courses? Goodness, Oracle Tate, that was good writing -- maybe -- in 1892.

But, hey -- at least the Oracle didn't toss any elbows at fans.

TheChiefLives wrote on February 08, 2013 at 9:02 am

You need counseling.

jjohnson wrote on February 08, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Are you a masochist, Moonpie? Do you enjoy being ridiculed? Why not ease up. You are entitled not only to your opinions but to your foolishness, but to display it so constantly is rather poor judgement. It is fine if you wish to proclaim disdain for all things Illini, but then come out and say it!

CecilColeman wrote on February 08, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Moonpie = as dumb as any Hoosier one can find. Must have once dated the gal Loren ended up marrying.

JDG613 wrote on February 12, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Just too darned funny....  Not your post, Moonpie, 'cause those are NEVER funny......rather, the fact that someone still lets you use their adult computer to send these Tate-bashing tirades..... 

beekay wrote on February 08, 2013 at 9:02 am

Well, it's a new day which means it is time to look ahead to the next game.  I say to myself - how did we beat a team that shot 50% overall, over 50% from 3 point range, and only missed one free throw?  And from what I can tell, the key is that we created turnovers and scored 28 points off of those turnovers, and we prevented Indiana (a team that runs and runs and runs) from getting a single fast break point.  Let me say that again -- zero fast break points from Indiana.  And now we go into Minnesota.  Do you all remember how many easy fast break baskets (several of them dunks) that Minnesota got against us on our home court?  That cannot happen.  And Illinois MUST create turnovers and get into transition.  Our body of work has shown us that our half court offense has not been consistently good.  We need to create turnovers and keep our opponent from getting into transition.  And, of course, against Minnesota we will have to rebound well on missed shots.  Mbakwe was tremendous against us in the first meeting.

I think all of us want to ride the excitement of last night's victory with hope that it will inspire us to beat Minnesota.  We want to believe that the Illini somehow figured something out last night.  I'm not sold on that yet, but a victory at Minnesota would give me some hope.  I don't want to be known as that team that can pull a rabbit out of its hat every so often.  I want to be a team that is consistently intimidating because of togetherness on the court.  We should know soon enough if we made any significant inroads toward that goal.

DaisyJ wrote on February 08, 2013 at 10:02 am

REALITY PLEASE. Before we proclaim a turnaround awakening, lets understand something.

You never man to man the ball out of bound under the basket. Our high school coach taught us that you zone ( for the reason we just saw), and as the ball is thrown up into the air out away from harm, away from the basket, as this happens, you then pick up your man and no lay ups will occur. End of story. I see at least 2 baskets a game or 4 free throws a game given way by teams. And, when most games are close, duh, what does that tell you.

Watch off ball the defense played by Abrams and Paul. On one play the announcers singled out, Paul was in the lane, and here comes Ferrill with the ball, and Paul is looking away (Ferrill is 2 steps from Paul) and Paul is looking  at his man and lets little Ferrill shoot a 5 footer. Geeze, Paul, wake up. His man was of course 15 feet away so Paul in essence was doing NOTHING defensively. Same with Abrams, he thinks he can guard everyone else's man, so he sloffs off and oops, his man is shooting and scoring. These guys are not less talented. They just are not made to play D or they are told and are increadibly stupid.

tonyjb37 wrote on February 08, 2013 at 11:02 am
Profile Picture

The best WIN, I have ever seen here, period!!!!!       I am glad me and the family went to the game last night it was more than worth it all.  We played a great all around game and that is what I like to see, we played alot tougher than we have been and it showed by an epic WIN for the ages.  Great Job Guys!       GO ILLINI!        We'll be back! 

JDG613 wrote on February 08, 2013 at 12:02 pm

@DaisyJ - So...you're telling us that your High School coach was smarter than Coach Groce is?  I assume, then, that your HS coach is now in the NBA, right?  Didn't think so...  I think it's reasonable that we fans, who aren't playing the game because of a very good reason....we're not good enough, or we're just too dang old to even make it plausible....to grant the guy who is PAID to coach the team the freedom to make the decisions FOR the team.

And it seems just a little (pleasantly) ironic that when you're calling the players stupid, you do so by misspelling the word incredibly.  I do appreciate the chuckle, though.  Thanks!

Maybe you and Moonpie can go have your own conversation somewhere.  At least the two of you will care.

TheChiefLives wrote on February 08, 2013 at 1:02 pm


DaisyJ wrote on February 08, 2013 at 2:02 pm

On the last play, yes, my high school coach, my junior high coach, and most of the fans that if asked this question --" would you think you could give up a free uncontested lay up for the winning basket if you played zone and packed it in or if you played tight man to man. And guess what , I will let you be the first to respond. duh.

The gift at the end just shows you the mentality of invincibility by some players and team. Indiana fell asleep. Guess what, if you asked Crean today, he would zone it next time also.

I see this over and over. Not telling you why, but I watch and attend over 250 games a year.

Zone it , and then pick up your man before they know what happened. Come on, that was pretty stupid looking what IU did. Pretty F'n stupid. My coach also told me to watch the ball at all times and stay between my man and the basket.

Just becasue these coaches are loved, admired and made bigger than they are on tv and you buy into that does not mean they cannot learn something still. It seems you have a hard time learning what I am saying also.

Guess what, a player can be very stupid and still be a stud player. Next quesiton.

Making fun of me is not the same as me calling someone stupid, is that what you said CUPID.

CecilColeman wrote on February 08, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Daisy's high school coach also taught Home Ec.

DaisyJ wrote on February 08, 2013 at 2:02 pm

One more thing spelling BEE WINNER. Get over it. You seam tu undirstind whot I wazz sayun.

Bear8287 wrote on February 09, 2013 at 1:02 am

Coming from the great DaisyJ who calls players stupid and lazy and then is too lazy to spell check? 

Did I ever tell you about the time that my 3rd grade teacher taught the class how to spell "incredibly"?



Bear8287 wrote on February 09, 2013 at 1:02 am

Very happy for the Illini and especially Tyler who has been through a rough stretch lately.

Great win!

Go Illini!