CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — State Farm Center was rocking for one last time this season, and neither team disappointed.
In Thursday night’s high-stakes affair to determine a potential six-way tie for second place in the Big Ten, Michigan came to town looking to spoil Senior Night for grad transfers Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr.
Despite being without starting point guard Jayden Epps due to a concussion, Illinois used a barrage of highlight-reel dunks to maintain a late lead over Michigan.
A Wolverines’ last-minute comeback forced overtime, and both teams battled down to the wire in what was a double-overtime classic. In dramatic fashion, senior leaders Shannon and Mayer combined for 45 points, and Illinois prevailed over Michigan, 91-87.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Highlighted by six (yes, six) dunks in the game, Illinois (20-10, 11-8 Big Ten) was playing ahead most of the second half after holding a slim 33-31 lead at the break.
Shannon didn’t make a field goal until 12 minutes remaining in the second half, but it didn’t seem to matter. The Illini got huge double-digit scoring contributions from Mayer, Ty Rodgers and RJ Melendez.
Midway through the second half, it seemed like Illinois was in complete control. However, Kobe Bufkin scored 10 (of his 23) points in a 12-2 run to bring the Wolverines back, giving them a one-point lead with just over seven minutes to play in the game.
“I told our staff and I told our team, ‘Michigan’s the best team in our league,’” said head coach Brad Underwood. “And I believe that.”
The theme of runs kept going for both teams. Illinois responded with a 14-6 run to take a seven point lead with two minutes left, but an unbelievable response by Michigan — seven unanswered points — knotted the game at 70 apiece.
Michigan (17-13, 11-8 Big Ten) had a good look from Dickinson to complete the comeback on the final possession, but a missed hook shot sent the game to overtime.
In overtime, the roles for both teams switched.
After tying the game in regulation, Howard immediately cashed in another three. He and Dickinson (31 points and 16 rebounds) scored the first 11 points of Michigan’s overtime period. All of a sudden, the Wolverines had used an 18-4 run to take a seven-point lead of their own.
The senior stepped up in a big way, scoring eight points down the stretch to eventually tie the game up at 81.
“They gave us a ton of time on the clock, and I never counted us out,” Shannon said. “I feel like everybody had that mindset to not give up.”
His chance to make a free throw to take the lead came up short, and another potential game-winning possession for Michigan ended in another stop for Illinois.
“TJ’s really the one that got us back in the game right at the end there and then carried us in overtime,” Mayer said. “That’s something he’s been doing for us all year.”
Regardless of the missed free throw, Shannon’s late scoring stretch forced another five minutes. This Big Ten classic wasn’t done yet.
The back-and-forth heroics by both teams led us here.
Unlike the first overtime, the Illini started the second one strong. Seven key points from Mayer put Illinois up five halfway through the period.
“Our teammates know that me and Matt are primary scorers,” Shannon said, “We just run offense through us and we just happen to execute on offense.”
Dickinson then returned the favor with two quick buckets of his own but missed a game-tying free throw, and Illinois held on to an 88-87 lead.
Shannon attempted a step-back three to try going up four, but it wasn’t close. However, the transfer leader arguably made the biggest play of the night, as he raced after the ball and grabbed a big rebound.
“In a lot of ways, people just don’t even understand how good Terrence really is,” Mayer said. “He’s been really, in my opinion, carrying our team even when people don’t think so.”
The Wolverines were forced to foul, leaving them down three with six seconds left.
With a chance to extend the game to a third overtime, Joey Baker air-balled an open three. Illinois added one more free throw, and that was all she wrote.
The Senior Night win gave the program its fourth straight 20+ win season.
“Great programs have great consistency,” Underwood said. “This year means a little more.”
What a game. What a night.
- Matthew Mayer: 24 points (8-20 FG, 4-11 3PT), 7 rebounds
- Terrence Shannon Jr.: 21 points (13-16 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists
- Ty Rodgers: career-high 14 points (6-9 FG), 7 rebounds (5 offensive)
- RJ Melendez: 12 points (3-6 FG), 4 rebounds
- Hunter Dickinson: 31 points (14-21 FG), 16 rebounds, 3 assists
- Kobe Bufkin: 23 points (7-15 FG, 3-4 3PT), 6 rebounds
- Jett Howard: 15 points (5-12 FG, 3-8 3PT), 5 rebounds
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Terrence ended the first half with this rejection.
RJ put this one down over Dickinson.
It was Dunk City tonight for the Illini.
- Illinois has improved to 93-85 all time against Michigan.
- This is the sixth straight win in the series for Illinois.
- Illinois improves to 59-28 in Champaign against Michigan.
- And how about a fun one.
Illinois went 8-1 this season when the McNuggets promo hit. https://t.co/Rh6lD2t4bR— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) March 3, 2023
- “Consistency is the thing that jumps to my mind, and to be able to do it in this league? It feels pretty good.” — Underwood
Illinois is the Big Ten’s winningest team in league play over the last four years with 55 conference wins.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) March 3, 2023
Illinois and Iowa will be the only teams to finish above .500 in Big Ten play each of the last four seasons.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Are these guys the flyin' Illini tonight???— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) March 3, 2023
To answer our own question: yes, yes they were.
The regular season is almost over.
Illinois will travel to Purdue on Sunday for the final game before the Big Ten Tournament.
Tipoff is at 11:30 a.m. on FOX.