A two-shot lead heading into the final round of the Big Ten championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club quickly turned into a rather sizable deficit to Iowa after a rough start for Illinois. The Illini rallied on the back nine behind seniors Giovanni Tadiotto and Michael Feagles for a one-stroke victory.
What it means
Illinois’ stranglehold on the Big Ten continues. Sunday’s championship was a sixth straight for the Illini, their 11th in the last 12 that have been played and 18th total in program history. Illinois remains the standard bearer for northern golf teams in a sport driven by programs in warmer climates.
Pairings for the NCAA regional — set to take place May 17-19 — will be announced Wednesday. Illinois was in the field regardless of Sunday’s Big Ten championship results. As things currently stand, the Illini are projected as the No. 2 seed in the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional by Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine.
What was said
“We had a lead going into the last round and excited to maybe put another one on the board. I think our guys were tight. They were a little more nervous, quiet. I think the more of these you win and the more expectation build on every class that comes in they feel added pressure.” — Illinois golf coach Mike Small
Momentum from taking the doubles point was soon zapped after Ohio State claimed the first two singles matches. The bottom half of the Illinois lineup came through in the clutch with both Noe Khlif and Zeke Clark pulling off consecutive come-from-behind three-set victories to clinch the title.
What it means
The Buckeyes have dominated at the Big Ten tournament — winning 11 of the previous 13 — and have been the team to beat in the conference for more than a decade. Illinois has been right there, but regularly stumbled against Ohio State. But not on Sunday in the program’s first tournament title since 2015.
The Illini will ride the wave of a Big Ten tournament championship into the next stage of postseason play. The NCAA tournament field was announced late Monday afternoon, with No. 16 seed Illinois set to face unseeded DePaul in Friday’s opening round at Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana.
What was said
“It never feels that way when you’re in it. It’s just one match, get ready for it and see how long you can keep your head above water and keep fighting. We don’t think at all about streaks, but when someone said that to me earlier I was like, ‘That’s a lot of matches in a row.’” — Illinois coach Brad Dancer on his team’s 17-match winning streak.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).