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When Nebraska cut it to one with about five minutes to go, I had to get up and pace. I've worked on my "I can just sit here and keep it all in" over the years, but sometimes I just can't stay on press row. I have to pace. So I chose Section 116.
The reason I chose 116: it was on the end where Illinois was shooting. Press row is on the Nebraska end (at least in the 2nd half it is), and I wanted to be on the Illinois end. And I needed somewhere to pace. So I chose the concourse directly behind 116.
Here's the view from there:
That's the under-4:00 timeout. I paused to take that picture but that was the only time I wasn't in motion. There's a railing there at the back of 116, and I simply hugged that railing and walked back and forth, back and forth. Kofi had just picked up his fourth foul, and Section 116, which was as desperate for an over-the-back call on Kofi as Michigan Basketball was for this Covid pause, had finally gotten their wish. Kofi headed to the bench, Nebraska's 5-star freshman headed to the free throw line with a chance to tie it, and Section 116 was in a good mood. I wondered if I had picked the wrong place to pace.
The next four minutes were just about as much fun as I've had covering a basketball game this year. McGowens did tie it at the free throw line, and the Nebraska crowd was getting loud, and I was pacing, and then, well, I'll just take you through it.
The first play of the run was Coleman Hawkins boosting our offensive rebound stats. If you want to choose a play in a basketball game where you're surrounded by opposing fans, something like this is quite the spectacle:
Each time Hawkins grabbed his own rebound, Section 116 got louder and louder until his layup was one big "NOOOOOOO".
Then the Omar Payne Takeover begins. On the defensive end, he blocks McGowens. On the offensive end, he grabs the oop from Trent and flushes it with ease. Illini by four and Section 116 is antsy. Just as they're urging their guys to get back in it, Alonzo Verge throws the ball away. Section 116 has moved past antsy and now they're getting angry.
It would get worse. After the Verge turnover, Trent makes a great pass to a wide-open Da'Monte who splashes a three. McGowens tied the game at the 3:57 mark, only a minute and 29 seconds has gone by, and suddenly Illinois is up by seven. Section 116 doesn't know what hit them. The security guard from the club area behind me had come up to the railing when the game got close but now he went back inside. He watches for 90 seconds and suddenly they're down by seven.
Nebraska gets two points back at the line and now it's a five point game. Section 116 urges their Huskers to get a stop. And they do, kind of. Jacob Grandison misses a three. But there's Omar Payne again, grabbing the rebound and getting fouled. It's a one-and-one, and the crowd gets loud, but the 41% foul shooter sinks both. He's 4-4 from the line in this game.
On the other end, Alonzo Verge misses a shot, Coleman Hawkins grabs the rebound, and now Illinois is really in control. With Kofi Cockburn on the bench. Brad Underwood takes a timeout to talk about the final 75 seconds and Section 116 tries to figure out what just happened. The guy directly in front of me turns to his wife and says "Number 4 got in there and smoked 'em." I decide to start writing down the quotes I'm hearing.
I'm still pacing at this point - even though it's back to a seven point lead, I've seen seven point leads evaporate in 1:15 before - and I notice the two guys on the end doing the math. "Get a stop, hit a three, and we're still in this."
We come out of the timeout, the ball goes to Trent, he let's it fly, and the woman right next to the two guys begs for mercy: "Please, no".
"Well, that's it" says the Number Four Smoked 'Em guy as he grabs his coat and makes his way towards the aisle. He casually tells another Nebraska fan "they should've played #4 the whole game". There's at least one Nebraska fan convinced that Omar Payne is the greatest basketball player alive.
And that was it. There was only enough time for one very odd flex after a meaningless Bryce McGowens dunk with 30 seconds left. Trent hit four free throws to push his point total to 29 and that was the game. Illinois 81, Nebraska 71.
Thanks for letting me share those four minutes with you, Section 116. Sorry Omar Payne is so awesome.
+ Last night, while writing the preview, I noted that Illinois was the #1 offensive rebounding team in the country and that Nebraska was 313th in defensive rebounding. So I put it out there: could Illinois possibly get to 50% offensive rebound percentage in this game? We got close against Maryland - 19 offensive rebounds for us, 23 defensive rebounds for them. And against Minnesota, we had 13 offensive boards and the Gophers had 20 defensive boards. Could we get to 50/50 against Nebraska?
After a horrific start - only three offensive rebounds in the first half - we actually got somewhat close to 50/50. In fact, in the second half, we were over 50/50. 22 missed shots on the Illinois end of the court - we grabbed 12 of those and Nebraska grabbed 10. But overall, of the 40 rebounds on our end of the court, we grabbed 15 offensive boards and Nebraska grabbed 25 defensive boards. So yeah, I guess I can't say "we got somewhat close."
All told, rebounds were 42-31. Not the complete domination I was expecting, but still good enough to pull away in the second half.
+ I feel like we need to talk about five Big Ten wins in five games. I know the schedule has been light, but still, 5-0 is 5-0.
I'll put it this way. Big Ten wins the last seven seasons:
2017/18 - 4
2015/16 - 5
2021/22 - 5
2018/19 - 7
2016/17 - 8
2019/20 - 13
2020/21 - 16
From the 2011/12 season to the 2018/19 season, we didn't reach double digit conference wins a single time and the nine conference wins in 2014-15 was the high water mark. This season, we could theoretically reach nine conference wins on January 25th.
+ We should talk about Trent Frazier. I tweeted this in the second half:
Deja vu for me right now. Seated in nearly the exact same spot as last year. Same sleepwalking performance. Looked up the score and at the under-16 TO last year and it was 40-39. This year: 40-38.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 12, 2022
Ayo saved that one. Scored 15 straight in regulation and OT. Who saves this one?
The answer: Trent Frazier. Trent's 2nd half stats (read: 2nd half only):
2-2 from three
8-9 from the line
We don't deserve him.
+ Overall, it was great to win this one given how poorly we played. Kofi had maybe his worst game of the season (8-18 from the field, 0-5 from the line, -7 one game after being +29), Alfonso Plummer was held to single digits (and was only 1-5 from three), the starters were dead tired late in the second half after playing so many minutes, and yet we still found a way to win by 10 on the road. I know Nebraska is awful, and the coaches are probably still awake at this hour trying to figure out all of the alarms that tripped this evening, but still, pulling away with a lineup of Trent-Da'Monte-Grandison-Hawkins-Payne was so much fun to watch.
Especially from Section 116.