Moments - Michigan State
Friday night at the SFC was pure old school fun. As Robert noted in this tweet...
Maybe it was the orange-out, but this had the feeling of a game from the early 2000's. Michigan State in town, sold out Orange Out, crowd keeps getting louder and louder as we turn a nine point deficit into a nine point win in the final 12 minutes. So good to be back. --- Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) January 14, 2023
... he was getting all the Assembly Hall circa 2000 feels. Well, Robert, I'll see your Frank Willams, Sergio McClain, and Brian Cook and raise you Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, and Nick Anderson. The electric surge of the crowd during the second half comeback against MSU had me reliving those January 1989 "comeback against Georgia Tech to secure the #1 ranking" Assembly Hall vibes. I was on the bench for that game soaking in every last drop of the atmosphere that afternoon.
I was privileged to have a similarly close vantage point on Friday night. As we've noted here before, the "usual" IlliniBoard media seat at the SFC is dead center court. Our chair literally splits the 10 second line extended. So while both Robert and I were in attendance for the game (which is not a regular occurrence), we were only assigned our one court level seat. For high profile games, court level media row is prime real estate because of the visiting team media and national writers who are also in the house. You know, Content Wars, and all that.
From this chair, we see and hear just about everything. Coach to player, player to coach, coach to referee, coach to other coach - we catch just about all of it. (Although I will note that the crowd noise was so deafening at times on Friday that the "hear everything" component wasn't always possible.). Robert was gracious enough to allow me the prime seat for the night so I could be close enough to the action to write one of my favorite pieces: the annual "Moments" post.
I got to the State Farm Center right when the doors opened on Friday so I could chronicle in "real time" all of the sights, observations, and sound bytes from pre-game all the way to post-game handshakes. (Inspirational credit as always goes to Brendan Quinn of the Athletic who first had this idea when he was on SFC media row for an Illinois/Michigan game a few seasons ago.)
So settle in and relive the Illinois win over Michigan State - in moments...
6:00 PM (Two hours before tip-off)
The only sounds in the building are Kendrick Lamar from the sound system and bouncing basketballs. The only humans on the court are the full complement of Illinois managers who are putting up a few shots. Sencire Harris is the first scholarship player to join them on Lou Henson Court.
Illinois assistant coach Tim Anderson joins the group and takes Harris aside to work on cross-over dribbles into both right and left one handed passes.
Jayden Epps strolls onto the floor and immediately starts firing up corner three pointers. He makes 8 of 10 before transitioning to pump fake/one dribble/step in mid range jumpers - which have been a recent addition to his offensive arsenal as of late.
Luke Goode makes his appearance. He remains out of action - sidelined with a left foot fracture sustained in the "Secret Scrimmage" against Kansas back in late October. He is moving well, though, without any indication of favoring his left leg as he goes through some light shooting drills. His official return date remains in question, but by the way he's moving, that date figures to be sooner than later.
Terrence Shannon, Jr. makes his way onto the floor. His recent aggressiveness on offense has been the driving force behind the modest two game win streak against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Meanwhile, RJ Melendez just made 10 consecutive threes. He's only 3 of 19 from deep over the past four games, so maybe this is a good omen?
Joey Hauser is the first Michigan State player of note to hit the floor - with the full Spartan contingent trickling in soon after.
Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja are the last two Illinois players to join the pre-game warmup routine. Tim Anderson (in hoodie/sweatpants) and Chester Frazier (in dress pants/shirt/tie) are standing side to side at half court watching warmups intently.
The two teams are a contrast in warm-up styles. The Illinois side is free flowing and loose - with guys mostly doing their own thing. And dancing. Lots of dancing. Meanwhile, the Spartans are basically running a practice. MSU assistant coach Doug Wojcik is tightly orchestrating drills with a strict efficiency.
Chester Frazier calls the Illini together for a quick huddle and leads them back into the locker room. Michigan State remains on the floor, which means it's time for...
SFC SLOW JAMZ. Gone are the heavy beats and lyrical stylings of Baby Keem, Quavo, and A$AP Ferg - in favor of...Celine Dion and George Michael.. Similar in gamesmanship to the pink visiting football locker rooms at Iowa, the tradition here is to seduce the visiting team into sleepiness with the softest of light rock during warm ups. I dare you to get hyped while "My Heart Will Go On" is gently wafting through the arena.
The State Farm Center doors are open and Orange Krush is rolling into place for Paint The Hall Orange night! Well, pseudo-Orange Krush anyway. The students are still out on winter break so it's a reasonable facsimile of Orange Krush. Credit where it's due though - it's an hour before tip and they are already bringing the heat.
Tom Izzo alert. The Michigan State head coach saunters out of the tunnel, walks right past his team to the far end of the court directly in front of where Illinois is going through warm-ups. He plops down in a chair right next to Matthew Mayer (who is sitting to adjust his shoe) and starts chatting him up like they were friends since grade school. It's more humorous than anything, but I just find it hard to imagine any other Big Ten coach doing this. Eventually Mayer gets up to join his team on the floor and Illinois AD Josh Whitman makes his way over to Izzo. They also share a warm conversation. Say what you will about Izzo, but he certainly remains a huge presence in this sport.
The officials for tonight's game are on the court. Kelly Pfiefer, Keith Kimble, and John Gaffney. Illini fans will remember Pfiefer. He was the ref who "T'd" up Trent Frazier at Indiana a few years back after Trent said "cash" to the IU bench after a made three.
It's five minutes to tip and the SFC is absolutely resplendent in orange. It is NOT a late arriving crowd. Paint the Hall Orange night is in full effect - and it looks glorious.
AC/DC's Thunderstruck rips through the speakers and the Illini are welcomed onto the floor by a raucous SFC crowd. It is NOT a late arriving crowd, and they are in full throat already. Brad Underwood is last of the Illini coaching staff to make an appearance - in his orange sportcoat, of course. (Still the wrong shade of orange, but oh well). He and Izzo share an embrace and we are just about ready to roll.
Starting lineups are introduced and MSU's Mady Sissoko is greeted with a loud and lusty chorus of boos. Sissoko concussed Ayo Dosunmu with a dirty foul in a game at the Breslin Center in 2021. The Orange Remembers.
**Insert movie special effect where the timeline magically shifts from "clock time" to "game time"**
Oh, we don't have the budget for that? OK - so anyway - the game started...
Terrence Shannon, Jr turns a steal into two free throws and Illinois draws first blood at 2-0. Izzo immediately is off the bench. He beckons for Jaden Akins (who turned it over) and gives him an early earful.
The MSU bench calls out their offensive set: "54 STRONG!!" Coleman Hawkins looks to the Illinois bench and yells out "54 STRONG!". The Illini adjust their defense accordingly. Scouting is everything in this league. Still, MSU runs a set to get Tyson Walker isolated against Sencire Harris and he scores off the mid range floater.
Hawkins gets the ball near mid court and recognizes that Dain Dainja already has his man sealed off. Coleman tries to lead him to the basket but throws it well over his head for a turnover. Brad Underwood gets Hawkins' attention while clapping and nodding. He liked the idea - but he also coaches him to take a couple more dribbles for a better pass angle next time.
TSJ hits a late shot clock three and he's got 9 points already. He looks over to Underwood with a smile and an "oh yeah, I got this one tonight coach" nod. It's 11-8 Illini.
After back to back blocks by Mayer and Epps on the defensive end, Izzo is off the bench and angry. Kelly Pfiefer runs right past Izzo, but then stops on a dime and points directly at MSU assistant coach Mark Montgomery to call a technical foul. The SFC crowd goes absolutely bonkers - thinking the "T" was called on Izzo. While TSJ was shooting free throws, Izzo smartly avoided Pfiefer and instead lobbied his case (he thought the Epps block was a foul) to both Keith Kimble and John Gaffney separately.
Underwood calls for a spread set on offense and RJ Melendez finds TSJ for a first cutter layup. Underwood is pleased.
TSJ makes a bad gamble on a steal attempt which leads to an easy Mady Sissoko lob dunk. Underwood is not pleased. It's 21-19 MSU.
We get the first real eruption of Mt. Underwood. Dain Dainja fails to deliver a side ball screen on two consecutive opportunities in the same possession. Dainja is bailed out with a foul call in the low post, but as the Illini head to the bench for the under 12 media time out, Underwood is up and in Dainja's ear: "SCREEN! SCREEN! SCREEN!"
Sencire Harris gambles for a steal against Tyson Walker - unsuccessfully. Walker converts a layup instead and Underwood jumps off the bench and points at Jayden Epps. "GET HIM OUT OF THERE". Fifteen seconds later Walker gets another easy layup for a 25-19 Spartan lead and Underwood has seen enough. He calls a 20 second timeout and reinserts Matt Mayer with two fouls.
Dainja stone cold drops a perfect pass from TSJ off a pick and roll for a turnover. Underwood gets Dainja's attention, looks down to his hands, and shrugs.
Dainja gets stuck "in between" in ball screen drop coverage for the umpteenth time already and AJ Hoggard gets fouled shooting at the rim. MSU has 28 points in the paint this half. Hawkins subs for Dainja during the ensuing free throws and Underwood spends a long time talking to Dainja about his positioning on defense. It's clear he wants Dainja to stay higher on the drop to prevent MSU's ball handlers from getting too deep.
RJ Melendez fouls Hoggard on a drive and Underwood is irate. He first engages Kelly Pfiefer wanting him to know that RJ had "hands up verticality' on the block. Pfiefer basically tells Underwood to talk to the hand saying "No, no he (RJ) turned him." Unsatisfied with that answer, Underwood tries his case with John Gaffney. Gaffney shrugs and directs Underwood to look at the scoreboard to note the MSU foul disparity. "IT'S SEVEN TO FOUR IN FOULS BRAD!" Underwood remains unappeased. The half ends with MSU leading 37-33.
After an Illini offensive possession which consisted of one pass and a contested Mayer three which misses - Underwood wants to know "WHAT ARE WE RUNNING?!"
Following a Michigan State turnover, Illinois heads to the under 16 media timeout trailing 48-41 and Coleman Hawkins is demonstrably upset. The last offensive possession prior to the timeout was a disjointed mess and Hawkins was in the corner nearest the Illinois bench having an animated discussion with Underwood while play was ongoing. Underwood spent the majority of the time out outside of the huddle talking one-on-one with Hawkins trying to calm him down.
Meanwhile on the other side of the court, Tom Izzo is big mad at AJ Hoggard (he committed the above mentioned turnover) and those two spent most of the media time out in a long if not heated discussion. Izzo made specific mention of that very discussion in the post game. I couldn't make out what they were saying at the time so I'll let Tom tell you...
(Video credit to Illini Inquirer)
Some relationship advice for our readers: find someone on this planet you love as much as Kelly Pfiefer loves giving out technical fouls. Similar to the MSU tech in the first half, this one is on an assistant coach. After a no-call on a TSJ drive to the hoop, Tim Anderson apparently said the magic words and Pfiefer rang him up. It's 50-41 MSU after the two technical free throws.
MSU's Malik Hall dives on Sencire Harris' legs during a loose ball scrum and Harris is down and in a lot of pain. No foul was called and Underwood is incensed at the no call. He is up and back at it with Pfiefer - who is having none of it and commands him to sit back down. At this point, Underwood sees that Harris is injured and ignores Pfiefer's command - ostensibly to walk over and check on Harris. Except he goes right to Keith Kimble to continue his argument. After his discussion with Kimble he does go check on Harris and even helps him up from the floor. Harris is helped back to the locker room - but is not putting much weight if any through his left leg.
Matthew Mayer slithered through a pair of Spartan defenders for a reverse layup on the previous Illinois offensive trip and after a Tyson Walker miss on the other end, Mayer comes back down the court with...that look in his eyes. Everyone on press row knew he was taking the next shot. I'm guessing everyone one in the building knew. He splashes in a three from the left wing to tie the game at 54 and the SFC goes nuclear. Izzo wants time out. Man is it loud in here.
Mayer is officially "on one." He comes up firing off of a pretty basic high ball screen from Dainja and he drills another three to put the Illini up 59-54. Meanwhile, Malik Hall is hurt for MSU which kind of saves Izzo from having to burn another time out. During the injury time out he is all over Carson Cooper and Jaden Akins for their rather terrible ball screen defense on the Mayer three. Meanwhile, TSJ - who has been sitting for the last several minutes - is the first one off the Illini bench to greet his teammates. Oh, and hey, Sencire Harris is back out of the locker room and is riding a stationary bike at the far end of the Illini bench.
Mayer picks up his fourth foul going for an offensive rebound. He immediately starts advocating to the Illini bench to stay in the game. Underwood gives him a "thumbs up", but then also points to his head and tells him to "PLAY SMART!" He also brings TSJ back in the game to match up with Hoggard.
After Coleman Hawkins bangs home a three to put Illinois up 63-60, Hoggard tried to answer back with a quick three of his own, but it misses badly, and Izzo gives Hoggard a spot-on impersonation of the Danny DeVito "nope" meme.
Hawkins is called for a shooting foul against Hoggard and simply cannot believe it. Neither can Brad Underwood after watching the replay. Underwood simply claps his hands and throws them up in the air. Hawkins spends the entirety of Hoggard's first free throw shaking his head and repeating "no way" over and over. On the ensuing Illinois possession, we get the most make-up of all make-up calls against Jaden Akins defending Mayer. Izzo throws both arms toward the far end of the floor - apparently at all three officials collectively.
Hawkins sneaks in front of Joey Hauser for a put back after a far side bank air ball from Dainja to give Illinois a 71-64 lead. The MSU bench is absolutely sure it was a shot clock violation. However, replay clearly shows that a Matt Mayer shot grazed the rim earlier in the possession. MSU assistant Mark Montgomery incredulously asks Keith Kimble "It hit the rim??". Kimble confirms that it did indeed and Montgomery responds with a bitter beer face.
After a Hauser basket, Izzo elects not to foul down five. Illinois runs the shot clock down and Jayden Epps takes advantage of poor ball screen defense execution from Mady Sissoko and Tyson Walker to get a layup with just 4 seconds left on the shot clock and 48 seconds left in the game. Izzo can only stomp his foot in disgust as he once again faces a three possession deficit. After a Hoggard miss, he is resigned to his fate.
00:00 Illinois 75 Michigan State 66
Underwood and Izzo meet again at center court for a post-game handshake. Izzo tells Underwood: "Hell of a game"