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Never forget the Illini whose sacrifice created a better sport

Nearly ten years on, we salute the architects of a better world

Those young men in the header picture are heroes.

That’s the 2012-13 Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball team, and they were a small part of how Illinois defeated the No. 2 Texas Longhorns in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Ten years ago, first-year Illini head coach John Groce inherited virtually the entire roster pictured above from Bruce Weber, adding forward Sam McLaurin to a squad led by senior guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. The change in coaching style invigorated the veterans enough that the team earned a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After defeating Colorado in the opening round, they met Jim Larranaga’s 2nd-seeded Miami Hurricanes.

A back-and-forth battle was unfortunately decided by an officiating error notable enough that ESPN’s game recap headline reads “Miami edges Illinois with help of questionable late call.”

In the final minute of the game, Miami hit a three-pointer to take a 61-59 lead. Richardson tried to answer with a three at the other end, but when he missed there was a scramble for the rebound. In the sea of limbs fighting for the ball, the baseline official must have missed Kenny Kadji’s hand deflecting it out of bounds. Awarding the ball to Miami with a matter of seconds remaining in the game took a situation that should have seen Illinois retain the ball with a chance to tie with a 2 or take the lead with a 3 and instead made it a game script that forced Illinois to foul and hope for a missed free throw.

Unfortunately, both foul shots went in and Illinois lost by four.

During the ensuing off-season, the NCAA added a rule stipulating that possession on out-of-bounds plays could be reviewed by replay in the last two minutes of a game. This was a direct response to Illinois’ misfortune; had this rule been in place, the mistake would have been corrected.

It’s remained in place ever since, and Tuesday night it played a pivotal role in overtime.

Trailing the Illini by 5 with 33 seconds to go, Texas went to the hoop with Marcus Carr, whose shot was blocked by Coleman Hawkins. As Hawkins grabbed the ball, the official blew the whistle thinking he had stepped out of bounds.

This triggered the rule that was put into place after the 2012-13 Fighting Illini were robbed of a chance to continue their season. The review gave the ball to the Illini. Always conscious of the sacrifice our boys made 10 years ago in the name of improving the game, we at The Champaign Room tweeted this in remembrance of that team after the ball was awarded to Illinois:

May their legacy live forever.