Illini basketball (21-9, 8-8) celebrated the 50th anniversary of Assembly Hall (the REAL Assembly Hall, unlike the one where the Hoosiers play see the video of the renovation plans here) by squeaking by Big Ten doormat Nebraska 72-65 (13-16, 4-12). The senior day victory over the Cornhuskers is exactly 50 years from when the Assembly Hall first opened its doors on March 2, 1963. The Illini bench outscored the Huskers bench 38-0 and the Illini won the rebounding margin 35-26; which offset the Huskers shooting 50% from three.
Scheduling the Huskers for Senior day is like scheduling the Hoosiers in football for homecoming- you want to give the crowd a very high probability of victory. But it almost didn’t happen. Illini basketball seniors Kevin Berardini, Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were honored in senior day ceremonies before a game that was way too close for comfort.
For Illini basketball fans, this was Norfolk St., Gardner-Webb, Western Carolina, Auburn, Penn State and Hawaii all over again- a narrow win over a supremely inferior opponent.
“We got stops when we needed them. We made enough plays, obviously we got work to do, try to get a few more stops, but we’ll try to figure it out before Tuesday’s game in Iowa City” Coach John Groce said.
Groce admitted he had no answers for about 30 minutes as Nebraska guards Dylan Talley (20 points) and Ray Gallegos (23 points, 6 threes) were scoring at will. Eventually though the Illini defense tightened, and they secured a win with balanced scoring on offense- five players had double figures.
However, this really makes an NCAA bid very close to secure for Illini basketball. Eight Big Ten wins and 21 overall should be enough for them given the strength of their resume and the Big Ten conference. The Big Ten is far and away the best conference in RPI, and 8-10 should be enough given the Illini SOS and RPI. They’ve beaten both the #1 Indiana Hoosiers and #2 Gonzaga. Illinois has played 11 RPI Top 25 opponents this season, the most of any team in the nation. Illinois is
currently 5-6 vs. the RPI Top 25. Illini basketball five wins against the RPI Top 25 are tied with Michigan State and Kansas for the second-highest total nationally, behind only the Hoosiers.
Illini basketball leading scorer and 4th in the Big Ten Brandon Paul: (Leaving with a win at Assembly Hall) “means the world to me.”
In addition to the events at Saturday’s game, memorable Assembly Hall moments will be highlighted throughout the week at FightingIllini.com, on the Fighting Illini Basketball Facebook page, and on the @IlliniHoops Twitter page. Fans are encouraged to use the hashtag #AH50 to post their favorite memories of Assembly Hall. As of April 2, 2008, the Assembly Hall was added to the annual top ten endangered Illinois historic places list, as published by Landmarks Illinois, a non-profit historic preservation group. The only other endangered athletic site on the list is the Cubs Wrigley Field in Chicago.
A Fulbright scholar, author and MBA, Banks has appeared on the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB)