Every home Illini game follows pretty much the same pattern. Illinois hangs close, then fades, then collapses. It happens every single time and dammit, it's punishing to watch.
But not on Thursday.
With five minutes left, the Illini got better, and the crowd responded. An apathetic and lackadaisical crowd only 90 minutes earlier was now a primal bunch of Orange and Blue animals. And I was one of them. My seats are on the floor, in the corner opposite the Illini bench next to the band. The section is comprised of all students and, given the usual home performances, we are a sad, sad bunch.
But again, not on Thursday.
With five minutes remaining, the place got loud. With four minutes, a little louder. Then louder. Then wild. Then, after DJ's 8-0 run, insane. Assembly Hall had legitimate hope for the first time in what seems like years, and they were letting the Hoosiers hear about it.
When DJ ripped the ball from Oladipo with seven seconds left, all human convention and normal rules of etiquette and however else people are supposed to act in public went out the window. The corner floor seats are bleachers with six rows of tightly packed-in students. On that steal, I touched every inch of those bleachers. I jumped forward to the front, then hopped up to the top. I was pushed, pulled and held back. We jumped and cheered. Adrenaline took me out of my body, and everyone around me acted the same.
The block brought us back down to Earth. We had the perfect side view of DJ's last second attempt. We saw it leave his hands. That ball was going in. Oladipo had saved the game and 0.9 seconds wasn't enough time to do anything. "Boys, we're going to overtime," my friend said to me as he put his hand on my shoulder.
AND THEN BEFORE I COULD PROCESS A SINGLE THOUGHT, TYLER GRIFFEY HAD BEATEN NO. 1 INDIANA.
There were no thoughts. There was no discussion. There was only bliss. The moment the ball passed through the net, I was off the bleachers, on flat surface and running towards center court. The Orange Krush folding chairs in front of me were helpless obstacles. My entire section went not over or around the chairs, but through them, sending them sliding onto the court and into the masses of people.
Court stormers were running too fast for their legs. Many, including myself, tripped on the fallen chairs, then hopped up as quick as they went down and kept running. Everyone was embracing everyone. I hugged a body painted student, a middle aged man and a dozen other people. We jumped and sang and yelled and high-fived and all collectively enjoyed the happiest moments of our life. Then, all together, we thought, "Maybe Tyler didn't get the shot off...?" We all backed out from center court, looked up at the video monitor right as they were showing the replay, saw the layup go in with plenty of time to spare and began the celebration all over again.
And when I woke up Friday morning and realized it was not a dream, the celebration began once again. What a night, Illini fans. What a night.