I was dead wrong about this game. Leading up to it I was telling anyone who would listen to me (which is admittedly a small number) that this one had all the makings of a proper Illini blow out.
A Saturday home game against a decidedly average Indiana team (12-8 overall; 4-4 in Big Ten play; 93rd in KenPom) while the Illini were coming off that tough OT loss in Evanston on Wednesday. Terrence Shannon, Jr., having the benefit of a week of practice and two full games as his re-integration process continues after missing a month due to suspension. Indiana likely missing its best player. An Illinois team that has feasted on middling opponents - sporting a +18 scoring margin against teams in the 80-150 KenPom range (Oakland, Colgate, Rutgers x2, Missouri, Michigan). I thought we would control this one from start to finish.
I was asked if the 14.5 spread felt a little heavy, and I responded that I was completely comfortable with that line. My deepest apologies to anyone who laid a few coins on this game after talking with me and my misplaced confidence.
The game ended up devolving into a good old fashioned Big Ten gear grinder with Illinois shooting 37% from the floor and just 65% from the free throw line while every single Indiana field goal was a two point basket. Robert covered IU’s ancient style of play in his post-game article but that’s a stat worth repeating. ZERO threes made - on just nine attempts. 2010 was the last time an Indiana team went without a three. (If you were wondering, the last team an Illini team went without a three was in 2019.) Despite the Hoosier’s archaic approach, the Illini still trailed more often than they led in this one. They were just good enough and Indiana was plenty bad enough to allow us to escape with 70-62 win.
Despite lacking sorely in aesthetic quality, this game - like every game really - was still chock full of fascinating individual plays and raw interactions. I’m talking about all the little things that combine to make up the full college basketball experience. As we have noted before, the ”usual” IlliniBoard seat on media row at home games is about as close as you can get to the action. From this vantage point we are privileged to see and hear just about everything that happens on the floor. Player to player, coach to player, coach to referee, coach to other coach - we catch just about all of it.
In an effort to invite our readers into that chair - each season we pick one home game in which I chronicle all of the sights, observations, and sound bites from pre-game all the way to the post-game handshakes in “real time”. The “Moments” post as we’ve come to call it. (Inspirational credit goes to writer Brendan Quinn who first did something similar for the Athletic when at the SFC covering Michigan State.)
So without further ado, let’s relive the Illini win over Indiana yesterday - in moments…
12:00 pm (2 hours before tip)
I stroll up to the State Farm Center just before noon and the Orange Krush line to get in the building extends well out into the north parking lot. The Krush look primed, well-oiled, and ready to rock. (They look kind of cold as well to be honest).
12:10 pm (110 minutes before tip)
As I arrive to my seat, it’s only walk-ons, managers, and Luke Goode on the floor shooting around, but at least I can ascertain that the Illini will be wearing the white “script” Illinois uniforms this afternoon. I feel like they always wear them against Indiana. Goode knocks down 9 straight from the corner before taking a seat on the floor to do some stretching.
12:20 pm (100 minutes before tip)
Marcus Domask and Quincy Guerrier each make their way to the floor. Domask works on ball handling drills through some cones at center court while Guerrier is working on his corner three point stroke as well.
12:30 pm (90 minutes before tip)
Sencire Harris is also on the court - in his Illini uniform oddly enough - going through similar ball handling drills as was Domask - but under the watchful eye of Illinois assistant coach Tim Anderson. I’ll admit to remaining somewhat baffled by the Harris redshirt situation. We’ll likely not know the final resolution on that until late April.
12:40 pm (80 minutes before tip)
Terrence Shannon, Jr. is now on the floor getting up shots. He has looked mostly out of sync in his two games back after a month out - on both ends of the floor. Brad Underwood said in his press conference yesterday that Shannon had his “best practice since coming back” on Friday, so we’ll see how that plays out today.
12:45 pm (75 minutes before tip)
The outside doors have apparently opened as the Orange Krush starts streaming into the building to fill in the section directly behind press row. Their newspaper headlines for this afternoon: “Hoosier Daddy?”
1:00 pm (1 hour before tip)
The Illini players are wrapping up their informal pre-game warmups and filing back down the tunnel to the locker room and I’m…starving. I’m delighted to find Papa Dels pizza in the media dining lounge. I also find Robbie Hummel sitting by himself and munching on some deep dish. Hummel ran afoul (see what I did there??) of Illini Twitter on Wednesday after questioning the flagrant violation called against Northwestern’s Ty Berry against Shannon. I don’t think he was right about that call, but he’s is still the best college hoops TV analyst in the business right now.
1:05 pm (55 minutes before tip)
Indiana is out for their pre-game shoot around - resplendent as always in their candy cane striped pants. IU’s best player - projected mid-first round pick Kel’el Ware - is in street clothes so it appears the pre-game buzz that he would miss the game due to an ankle injury was accurate. Also, the Illini are back in the locker room which means it’s time for State Farm Center Slow Jamz! We play an absolute murderer’s row of soothing love songs designed to lull the visiting team into an inescapable state of calm and mellowness during their warm-ups. Right now Brian McKnight is counting back down to one and I am thoroughly enjoying the complete absence of hype.
1:15 pm (45 minutes before tip)
Slow Jamz is over as the hype (and the volume) is immediately turned up as T.I.‘s ”Bring ‘Em Out” blasts across the SFC and the Illini take the floor for their initial full team warmup.
1:30 PM (30 minutes before tip)
I’m watching both teams warm up and I can’t help but noticing this guy from Indiana:
This is IU freshman guard Gabe Cupps. Ok, sure, if you say so , but really this is just the same guy Indiana has had on their roster for the last 40 years. Damon BaileyTomCoverdaleJordanHullsTreyGallowayGabeCupps. Same guy.
1:30 pm (30 minutes before tip)
The Illinois coaching staff is wearing suits and ties today - a departure from their usual casual wear look. This is to showcase the sneakers they are all wearing as part of the annual Coaches vs Cancer collaboration, and the kicks Brad Underwood is wearing look pretty sweet.
1:42 pm (18 minutes before tip)
The three officials for today’s game - Paul Szelc, Steve McJunkins, and Earl Walton - all sync their whistles with the scoring table. A pretty cool technology that maybe you knew about and maybe you didn’t…
1:56 pm (4 minutes before tip)
The Illini are back on the floor for final warmups - and Brad Underwood strolls out behind them. Indeed, those sneakers are pretty sweet. Tim Anderson also orchestrates a Lebron-esque baby powder toss by the front row of Orange Krush. I did not know this was a thing until today.
2:00 pm (TIP OFF)
The Illini control the tap and we are underway. We run a little action to get Marcus Domask going from three - but he misses from the top of the key.
Terrence Shannon misses a good three point look. That makes him 1-11 from the arc since his return. He is clearly still working off the rust of the extended time away. I’m sure he kept in great physical condition while he was out, but getting back in basketball game shape is a completely different thing altogether and he’s just not there yet.
A discombobulated offensive possession leads to a shot clock violation and Underwood is up off the bench for the first time this afternoon. He usually holds off on subbing for his first five before the first media time out, but he’s not at all happy - especially not with Quincy Guerrier. Luke Goode and Justin Harmon check in while Guerrier and Ty Rodgers have a seat.
Xavier Johnson strolls down the lane for an easy layup to give IU a 7-4 lead and now Underwood is officially upset. A possession earlier, poor communication between Harmon and Hawkins on a ball screen switch left Harmon in the post guarding IU’s Malik Reneau. Underwood stalks down the bench and with both intent and volume tells anyone and everyone that he has had it with ”SCOUTING REPORT MISTAKES!”
Coleman Hawkins is getting progressively and visibly frustrated. In fact, he’s all out of sorts. A possession earlier he was upset about a non-call on a lay-up attempt and he just turned it over on a terrible pass which led to an IU runout. Underwood initially signaled that he wanted a time out, but no referee saw him so he changed his mind and subbed Dain Dainja for Hawkins instead.
Shannon turns the ball over and Underwood is forced to sit him down. He is 1-5 from the floor with a turnover and couple of bad defensive lapses. We are inexplicably flat so far - shooting just 3-14 from the floor while giving up six IU baskets in the paint. It is 13-6 Indiana heading into the under 12 media timeout.
Dainja fouls Reneau and Underwood is immediately in the face of Earl Walton lobbying for the same contact to be called at the other end of the floor. Walton isn’t having much of it - saying that contact to the head was the reason for the Dainja call.
Shannon picks up his second foul and he gets the auto-bench. Meanwhile the Illini trail 20-14 as the offense continues to sputter. The Hoosiers have plenty of size and athleticism in the front court which has negated ”booty ball“ and limited second chance opportunities thus far. Combine that with 1-9 from deep and that’s how you find yourself with just 14 points in 13 minutes of play.
Hawkins is working hard against Reneau in the post. He gets a deflection out of bounds and before the ball is put back in play Underwood gets the attention of Steve McJunkins, He tells him to watch the extended forearm from Reneau as he posts. “We’re trying to 3/4 him and that forearm is illegal!”
Reneau victimizes Hawkins with an up and under move at the rim. Hawkins gestures to his weak side teammates as if to indicate that he was expecting defensive help on the other side of the basket.
Guerrier picks up a steal going towards the Illinois basket. He draws the foul against Gabe Cupps but Underwood wanted Quincy to go up stronger against the physically outmatched freshman. Guerrier makes 1 of 2 free throws (seems like that’s been his pattern for several games now) and it’s 20-17 Indiana.
Coleman Hawkins slips a high ball screen and finds himself wide open from the three point line in front of the IU bench. He knocks it down and Illini are back to within a point at 24-23 despite a sluggish first half thus far. It hasn’t been pretty for Indiana either. Indiana head coach Mike Woodson calls time out and as the IU players come to the bench, Reneau (who left Hawkins open) gets in to a heated discussion with assistant coach Kenya Hunter.
A tough sequence for the Illini. After a great defensive possession, Goode finds himself wide open at the top of the key. He misses the shot that would have given Illinois its first lead of the day, but instead a deflection off the long rebound leads to a run out dunk for Trey Galloway. Goode is visibly frustrated at himself for missing the three.
Goode gets his redemption story a minute later. This time he knocks down a contested three to tie the game at 26. Instead of his usual “ice water in the veins” celebration he simply throws up his arms as if to say “so THAT one goes in??”
Rodgers has been really good so far this afternoon. He’s now up to 7 points after an aggressive drive to the basket results in a three point play (foul on Reneau) and the first Illini lead of the day at 29-28.
Underwood dials up a great BLOB (baseline out of bounds) play with Domask laying a pin down back screen for Goode (who was the inbounder) to set Luke up with a wide open three from the wing. It splashes through and it’s 33-30 Illinois.
The Illini are rolling right now. It’s a 9-0 run and a 38-30 lead after a Harmon three on the break and a nice move along the baseline from Hawkins against the foul hampered Reneau.
An eventful ending to the first half. The Illini had possession for the final shot of the half, but after a Domask turnover, IU’s Xavier Johnson took it the length of the floor for a buzzer beating layup. Actually he missed the first layup, scored on the put-back of his own miss, and then threw the ball directly at the chest of Hawkins. There was a small kerfluffle as the teams headed back to their respective locker rooms (during which Johnson and Tim Anderson oddly high fived each other), but the end result after the officials huddled at the video monitor to review the play - was an “unsportsmanlike“ technical assessed to Johnson. That means two Illinois free throws are coming to start the second half. Right now anyway, it‘s 38-34 Illinois.
Paul Szelc explains the technical foul assessment to Woodson and he is in disbelief. The two have a long discussion before Woodson walks away clearly upset with the outcome of said discussion. Marcus Domask makes both technical free throws and now it’s 40-34 Illinois to start the second half. We run a beautiful back screen into a lob play for Rodgers in our first possession…and he biffs the layup.
It’s a sloppy start to the second half. The aforementioned lay-up miss and then a bad pass from Hawkins to Rodgers that skips out of bounds for a turnover. Underwood stays seated - but buries his face in his hands.
Rodgers inexplicably fouls IU’s Mackenzie Mgbako as he is shooting a long two point jump shot. Underwood desperately needs to vent to someone - and Tim Anderson is the unfortunate recipient.
A disjointed offensive possession from Illinois results in a Shannon three point attempt with the shot clock running down that barely grazes the rim. The officials called a shot clock violation but after review they assessed that the ball did hit the rim but gave the ball to IU - ruling it was an alternate possession situation. The Illini coaching staff was pleading that Reneau was out of bounds when he touched the ball after the shot, but to no avail.
The lay-up issues persist (6-12 on shots at the rim). Really the shooting as a whole has been a problem today. TSJ is 2-7 from the floor. Domask and Hawkins are each 3-9. The Hoosiers have crept back to within 42-41 as we hit the under 16 media TO. As the Illini come back on the floor, Underwood is laying into Quincy Guerrier on the bench. I’m not sure as to why - but it’s a pretty intense one way conversation.
Indiana is in the midst of an 11-0 run and has extended to 47-42 lead. Looking for any kind of spark, Underwood brings in Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn for his first meaningful minutes in quite some time.
That IU run hits 13-0 and Brad Underwood wants a time out. Once again out of the timeout, Underwood is letting Guerrier have it on the bench. To his full credit, Guerrier is calmly letting Underwood have his say. It bears noting though - that Quincy has been sitting since the last media time out.
No one will ever claim that DGL is afraid of the moment. Or gunshy. He’s been in the game for two possessions - and he’s put up two shots. He narrowly missed a driving layup on the previous possession and on this one he nails a much needed three. Let the record show that Quincy Guerrier was the first Illini player up off the bench in celebration.
Brad Underwood to McJunkins during an Indiana timeout: “HOW DO YOU MISS THAT?!” in reference to a perceived foul on a Hawkins missed layup. A rather long conversation ensues. And by that I mean, Underwood is talking in an animated fashion and McJunkins is just calmly nodding his head and letting Underwood have his say.
Goode slashes along the baseline and hits the lay-up plus a foul. He then turns back, flashes an enormous grin, and has a few words for someone on the Illinois bench. Turns out that someone was Tyler Underwood. In the post-game press conference Goode would admit as much - saying that the younger Underwood ”gets mad at me in practice every time I dribble the ball”.
Hawkins draws the fourth foul against Reneau on a rebound putback , but misses the “and one” free throw - just as Goode missed on his attempt earlier. Underwood kicks both legs out in frustration at the miss. Underwood must have seen film of me watching a game at home. I invented the “flail my legs out from a sitting position in pouty anger” move.
Reneau and Mgbako are both sitting with four fouls. The Illini coaching staff emphasize the lack of rim protection for Indiana - and want the ball going inside. They get their wish as Domask backs down Johnson for an easy jumper in the lane. 53-50 Illinois.
After Shannon settles for a baseline three (missed) against the foul saddled Reneau, Underwood called him over and said three simple words: “drive the ball”. One possession later - Shannon does just that, draws the fourth foul on Mgbako, and makes one of two free throws. 57-52 Illinois.
Shannon draws yet another foul - this time on Anthony Walker - and again converts one of two free throws. His body language after the first miss was not good at all. On the very next possession he gets caught sleeping on back cut and gives up an open layup to Anthony Leal. It remains a work in progress through three games for Shannon. 58-56 Illinois.
Hawkins takes it right to Reneau on a drive and draws the fifth foul on the IU forward who finishes his day with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Hawkins actually makes BOTH free throws and the Illini lead is 60-56.
After Indiana draws even at 62-62, Underwood calls timeout. He sets up a simple isolation play for Shannon who draws a blocking foul against Johnson. It’s probably a charge if this game was in Bloomington, but Shannon and the Illini will take it, and Shannon knocks down both free throws. Ty Rodgers checks in for Illinois for the first time in forever (Guerrier has not returned at all since he went out at around the 16:00 mark). Underwood pulls him aside and tells him to check Mgbako.
Just as it did in the final minute Wednesday at Northwestern, the ball finds Justin Harmon in the far corner. He makes a straight line drive into the middle of the lane and bounces in a floater over Galloway to give Illinois a two possession lead at 66-62. Harmon will end the day with a +/- of +24. Just a massive shot for the Chicago kid.
00:00 Illinois 70 Indiana 62
Indiana fails to convert on its final two possessions and Terrence Shannon ends up converting six straight free throws in the final minute to help salt away an ugly, but undoubtedly necessary Illini win. The post game handshake line is uneventful and now it’s onto Columbus.
And four hours later, that‘s all the moments I have to offer. Hope you all once again enjoyed the “view” from the front row.