Best and worst moments of 2008-09 Illini basketball

We all have our favorite and least favorite moments over the course of an entire basketball season. This season’s Fighting Illini have provided fans with much to celebrate, but not everything has been sunshine and cupcakes.

So, without further ado, here are my top three favorite and not-so-favorite moments from this year’s Fighting Illini basketball season.

Best moments

1. The final few minutes of Illinois’ dramatic 60-59 win at Northwestern on Feb. 12. Demetri McCamey banked in one heck of a shot to seal only the second conference road victory up to that point. I’ll admit that I got all caught up in how the Orange and Blue won the game, but let’s not forget Trent Meacham’s 12 points in the final 4:52 to help his team close the gap. Meacham really broke out at the right time, on the road, to help secure Illinois’ 20th win of the season. Lastly, credit has to be given to assistant coach Wayne McClain – the man responsible for Illinois’ full-court press in the final minutes of the comeback. The Wildcats scored only two points in the final five minutes.

2. Illinois’ season sweep of the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue was the sexy pick to take down the Big Ten this year, and Illinois handled them … twice. Illinois escaped West Lafayette, Ind., with an overtime thriller (Tisdale had 18 points and six boards). Personally, I thought a Robbie Hummel-less Purdue squad might take its frustrations out on the Illini in Champaign. Nope. What happened instead? An 18-point drumming of the Boilermakers. Sophomore Mike Davis had one of his monster games (14 points, 16 rebounds) to lead the Illini. Davis has truly been a scoring surprise this season. Where would Illinois be without his efforts?

3. Dominique Keller’s “Jordan three” pointer against Hawaii on Dec. 8. I know, I know. This isn’t really a profound moment in the season, and it was against a team Illinois was going to beat anyway. But I just can’t help myself. With 11:23 remaining in the second half of Illinois’ eventual 10-point win against the Rainbow Warriors, Keller hoisted a prayer from behind the arc.

“If you want to call it that, then yeah, it was a Jordan move,” Keller said after the game. “Yeah, that’s what we can call it, ‘the Jordan three.'”

The Illini forward has not only provided a spark off the bench for head coach Bruce Weber, he’s been a delight in postgame press conferences. Keller appears to loosen the team up, provides a bit of laughter to teammates and is the fifth-leading scorer on the Illini this season.

Honorable Mention: Chester Frazier’s insanely deep three-pointer at Ohio State on Feb. 22. Illinois won 70-68.

Worst moments

1. Alex Legion’s missed layup against Michigan State on March 1. Unfortunately for Legion, this one moment was a microcosm of the Kentucky transfer’s first season at Illinois. A lot has been placed on the sophomore’s shoulders, and he has seen a significant decrease in playing time since early February. Many have described Legion as “instant offense,” but Weber has had a difficult time meshing Legion into the lineup.

“I hope he comes back with a good attitude and keeps working at it,” Weber said after the loss to the Spartans. “I think there was a little period there where he was really feeling sorry for himself. I think he’s through that. He’s trying to tackle it right now.”

But Illini fans shouldn’t worry about Legion too much.

“We still haven’t given up on him,” Weber said. “We’re hoping he can really break out of it down the stretch and really help us.”

2. The “no-shot” at the end of Illinois’ 76-74 loss to Clemson on Dec. 2. With the ball during the final 11.1 seconds of the game, neither McCamey nor Frazier was able to get off a shot to tie or win the game. It was just so painful to see a scrappy Illini team hang in and take it all the way to the end and lose in such an anticlimactic way. This was such a huge game for both teams. Nobody really knew how good Illinois or Clemson was this early in the season, and this win kept the Tigers on track to win their first 16 games.

To make matters worse, the Big Ten lost the ACC/Big Ten Challenge six games to five. If Illinois pulled that game out, the Big Ten would have won its first inter-conference challenge ever.

3. Zero free-throw attempts in a 38-33 loss against Penn State on Feb. 18. Illinois did a lot of things poorly in this game, so I don’t really want to force you to relive it. But I wouldn’t be true to you all without placing this in my list. The previous low for free-throw attempts at the Assembly Hall was five. I mean, come on! You have to get to the charity stripe one time, especially in a home game. You’re telling me the refs couldn’t accidentally blow a whistle one time? It was a really fluky game, but that stat was especially nuts.

Honorable Mention: Illinois’ embarrassing 23-point loss at Minnesota. Not one Illini hit double-digits in the game. Thank God that one wasn’t on CBS.

Ryan Dixon is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]