Fifty-five years ago on Sunday — Dec. 5, 1966 — Illinois’ basketball team traveled to Lexington, Ky., and defeated coach Adolph Rupp’s third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats 98-97 in overtime. Rich Jones, a 6-foot-6-inch forward for the Illini, offset 40 points by UK’s All-America guard Louis Dampier with 32 points of his own. The Illini never trailed in the game but was caught, 85-85, on two free throws by Thad Jaracz with 33 seconds to go in regulation time. Deon Flessner and Jim Dawson added 23 and 18 points, respectively, for Illinois.
Other memorable events on this date in Illini history:
➜ Dec. 5, 1953: At Oklahoma, Illinois topped the host Sooners 86-61 behind John Kerr’s 34 points. The big redhead broke Bob Kurland’s field house record to two points.
➜ Dec. 5, 1956: George BonSalle scored 28 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, and teammates Harv Schmidt and Don Ohl combined for 41 more points as Illinois topped Butler 98-81 in the season opener at Huff Hall.
➜ Dec. 5, 1978: Lou Henson’s Illini hit 14 of 17 free throws in the last six-and-a-half minutes to pull away from Missouri and hand the Tigers a 69-57 loss at the Hearnes Center. Neil Bresnahan had 17 points and 16 rebounds for Illinois.
➜ Dec. 5, 1981: The Illini men’s basketball team avenged the loss that knocked it out of the previous season’s NCAA tournament by defeating visiting Kansas State 55-49. Playing all 40 minutes, Craig Tucker scored eight of the Illini’s 21 points in the second half.
➜ Dec. 5, 1983: At Illini football’s annual postseason banquet, defensive lineman Don Thorp was named his team’s Most Valuable Player.
➜ Dec. 5, 1987: Illinois topped Mississippi Valley State 111-73, scoring its most points in two years. Five Illini starters scored in double figures, accounting for 75 percent of their team’s points.
➜ Dec. 5, 1990: The Associated Press named linebacker Darrick Brownlow and nose tackle Moe Gardner to its second-team All-America squad.
➜ Dec. 5, 1998: At Chicago’s United Center, Cleotis Brown’s 16 points guided Illinois past Bradley 53-48. Former Kansas State teammates Lon Kruger and Jim Molinari coached against each other.
➜ Dec. 5, 2005: Freshman Jamar Smith hit six three-pointers and had a career-best 23 points to lift No. 11 Illinois past Arkansas-Little Rock 75-49.
➜ Dec. 5, 2009: In the final game of a 3-9 season, Illinois football lost 53-52 to Fresno State when a Bulldog offensive lineman caught a deflected two-point conversion in the final seconds. Quarterback Juice Williams finished his Illinois career with a school record 10,594 total yards of offense.
Sunday: Bruce Shuman, tennis coach (71)
Monday: Chris Basak, baseball (43)
Tuesday: Seth Coleman, football (21)
Wednesday: Jeff George, football (54)
Thursday: Kevin Jackson, football (50)
Friday: Coleman Hawkins, basketball (20)
Saturday: Devon Witherspoon, football (21)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @Spartifacts2021. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.