The Fighting Illini knocked off the No. 1 ranked Indiana Hoosiers in one of the craziest games in college basketball this season. After enjoying a comfortable lead for most of the second half, Indiana blew a nine point lead with 3:33 left to play. The Hoosiers saw their No.1 ranking once again blow up in smokes as Illinois senior forward Tyler Griffey made an inbounds lay-up at the buzzer to win it for the Illini by a final of 74-72.
Illini coach John Groce was proud of his team’s effort regardless of the outcome.
“Had we not made that last shot and lost, we played good today,” Groce said. “That may not be what you wanna hear but we played good today. We played tough today. We played together today. We trusted one another today. That was not gonna be changed because of a basket made or missed.”
The run started for the Illini with a free throw from Wooden Award finalist Brandon Paul.
The Illini exploded for a 9-0 run capped off by back-to-back three-pointers from Illini senior guard D.J. Richardson.
Richardson scored eight straight points to tie the game up at 70 a piece with 1:19 left to play.
Richardson finished with the second highest scoring total of his career with 23 points.
Groce was impressed by the play of his senior guard.
“I thought he was absolutely terrific,” Groce said. “At both ends of the floor he battled, he fought. I was really proud of him.”
After the 9-0 by Illinois, Indiana sophomore sensation Victor Oladipo gave the Hoosiers a two point lead on a drive with 50 seconds left.
Paul responded by getting fouled on a drive, hitting the first free throw off glass and swishing the second, tying the game at 72 apiece.
After another Hoosier turnover, Richardson ran on the break and had what appeared to be an open lay-up until Defensive Player of the Year candidate Oladipo rejected the ball out of bounds.
With 0.9 seconds left, the Illini could only hope for a miracle. Their prayer was answered with an inbounds lay-in by Griffey at the buzzer, with the Orange Krush storming the court at Assembly Hall.
Griffey says it’s a play they’ve ran all year.
“We ran an out of bounds play, one of our standard ones we’ve been running since the beginning of the year,” Griffey said. “I just made a simple curl cut and I just left two guys behind me and Brandon [Paul] made a heck of a pass and I just got it off before the buzzer.”
The win gave the Illini their tenth in their last 11 tries against the Hoosiers in Champaign.
Illinois improves to 3-20 all-time vs. No.1 ranked opponents, with their last win coming against Wake Forest in 2004.
The game started out rough for the Hoosiers as they turned the ball over three times in the games first four minutes. They turned the ball over 14 times in the contest. If there’s one kink in this squad’s armor, it’s holding onto the ball, which was evident in the waning moments of the contest
Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul was back in the starting lineup for the Illini after starting the last game against Wisconsin on the bench.
Paul wasn’t shy taking the first four shots for the Illini, finally hitting a three-pointer on his fourth attempt.
He finished with 21 points and was clutch down the stretch for the Illini.
Indiana began to create separation early on after forcing the Illini into some turnovers of their own. The Hoosiers went on a 9-3 run capped off by a lay-in from junior forward Will Sheehey, putting Indiana out in front 28-21.
The Illini began to rely on their three-point shot once again while the Hoosiers attacked from inside out. Indiana pulled out to a 37-23 lead after a 9-0 run, with Sheehey adding another four points at the end of the run. Sheehey finished with ten points to lead all scorers in the first half. The No.1 team in the country took a 41-29 halftime lead into the locker room.
Vying for a win out of complete desperation to salvage the season, the Illini came storming out the gate to start the second half. The slumping Griffey hit a three-pointer that seemed to finally break his curse.
“I just said to myself, finally,” Griffey said. “I’ve gotten myself a lot of shots up between when I started missing until now, so much that my wrists have been hurting.”
Despite their best attempts at making a run, Illinois failed really to cut into the double digit lead early on, but seemed right there throughout the second half. Every time Illinois would try to make a run, Indiana always had an answer from their shooters. The Hoosiers spread the ball and finished with four players in double-digits.
Hoosier coach Tom Crean says his team couldn’t finish off the Illini.
“We didn’t put them away when we had our opportunities,” Crean said. “That’s really what the bottom line is.” He added, “They’re very deserving of the win, because they never gave in. And you can see on film that they were mature, that they were getting better, this is still the same group of men that started the season the way they did.”
All of this just 24 hours after TCU knocked off No.2 Kansas, proving this is one wild year in college basketball.